Raymond Lalosin remembers coming home from the Ala Moana Shopping Center seven years ago and being confronted with a situation he knew would go from bad to worse. Makiki Stream was spilling over its banks just a few feet away from his home, with no signs of slowing down.
“The water, instead of going down, was already flowing upwards on Kapiolani Boulevard, so I new already something major was going to happen,” Lalosin recalls.
What would happen next, few in the area will ever forget. Runoff coming off the mountains was too much for Makiki Stream’s narrow banks, and several blocks of Kalakaua Avenue were flooded under four feet of water. The runoff was backing up at a narrow opening underneath the bridge at Fern Street, collapsing a retaining wall next to Lalosin’s house.
“The water was basically shooting through the hollow tile and the grout,” said Lalosin, who was temporarily trapped by the crumbling wall.
Once the storm subsided, and the cleanup began, the flooding was blamed on silt, vegetation and other debris that had gathered inside Makiki Stream, making it difficult for runoff to find its way into the Ala Wai Canal.
Fast forward to today, and residents in the area are still pleading with city officials to dredge Makiki Stream to head-off another potential disaster.
“The silt is very high. It's at least four feet deep, with the weeds about five feet high,” said Sandee Fulton, who lives at Kalakaua Vista, an apartment building located right next to the stream. “I cannot tell you how many emails I have sent, and the lady across the stream has called constantly. There's just nothing happening.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Regional General Permit to the city in December of last year to clear Makiki Stream, but the chokepoint by Fern Street that caused the historic flood remains untouched. The city’s Department of Facility Maintenance said it used the permit to dredge the stream from Kapiolani Boulevard to the Ala Wai Canal so water could flow unrestricted, but that did little to ease the concerns of residents like Fulton and Lalosin. The permit is to expire on April 13, 2017, and the city can request authorization from the Corps to perform further stream cleaning.
“To my frustration, it's basically like a tennis game,” Lalosin said of his battle with the city. “It keeps going on one side of the court, (and) coming back to my side. It's like an ongoing battle.”
A private contractor is currently performing work on the bridge at Fern Street, but there’s no dredging involved. The work is designed to shore-up the pilings that support the bridge.
The city says it will be difficult to dredge Makiki Stream from Phillip Street to Fern Street due to limited space, but there are plans to conduct further dredging mauka of Kapiolani Boulevard once the new permit is approved.
“We don't want a lawsuit (if there’s another flood), but it may end up being a lawsuit,” Lalosin told KITV4. “The whole point here is that nobody wins in a lawsuit, because in the long run, it's our tax paying money.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers general permit was set to expire March 10, 2012.