Hawaii Gov. David Ige is reassuring city leaders that the state remains committed to help fund the Ala Wai flood control project, despite the Legislature’s refusal so far to pass a spending bill for that effort.

In a letter sent Thursday to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Ige notes that the state will include in its biennium budget debt service payments on the $125 million it eventually needs to contribute to the sweeping flood control project.

“Consistent with our agreement, I am committed to seek state funding for the local sponsor’s one-time share of the project,” Ige told Caldwell.

The move essentially keeps the state’s foot in the door: It allows it to commit some funding now, on debt service, while paying the lion’s share later. The $125 million represents the local match for Congress’ appropriation of $345 million for the project last year, received with the help of former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Water levels due to King Tides along the Ala Wai Canal during a high tide at 3pm at the same time that Hurricane Hector was skirting south of the Hawaiian Islands. If Hurricane Hector hit Oahu, this compounded w/ the King TIde could have devastated and flooded Waikiki. 9 aug 2018
Water levels due to king tides rise along the Ala Wai Canal in 2018. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“For the state of Hawaii, whenever the federal government gives us $220 million to do a project, we think it is very important to move a project forward,” said Ford Fuchigami, the governor’s administrative director. “And that is the reason the governor and I put so much effort to come up with the $125 million to move this project forward.”

A spending bill for that local match, Senate Bill 77, died in this year’s legislative session after House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke asserted that the city had refused to sign a deal with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Caldwell took issue with that assertion in an April 11 letter to House and Senate leaders imploring that they provide the funding.

Army Corps officials have estimated that Waikiki, with its 54,000 residents and nearly 80,000 daily visitors, faces an annual 1% chance of a major flood that would cause $1.14 billion in damage to more than 3,000 structures. The neighboring low-lying communities of Moiliili, McCully and lower Makiki would face residual flooding, they said.

The issue stems from costly decisions about a century ago to create the Ala Wai Canal, destroying the wetlands that once absorbed rushing floodwaters and leaving heavy development in their place.

Caldwell said the funding was a matter of public safety for the Ala Wai basin, and that the island risked losing its federal dollars if it failed to provide the local match. Nonetheless, the Ala Wai project has met intense opposition among residents and schools in Manoa and other upland areas, where the Army Corps intends to create detention basins and debris catchment structures.

Caldwell was unavailable for comment late Thursday. House Speaker Scott Saiki declined to comment.

Ige’s letter to Caldwell was the second time in one day that the governor inserted himself into controversial matters pending before the Legislature. He also sent a letter Thursday to the leaders of the House and Senate asking them to reconsider House Bill 1326, the water rights measure.

The governor’s Ala Wai letter also states that the Army Corps agreed to allow the state to defer its payments until after the project was completed.

Read Ige’s letter here:

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