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County: Roadwork not muddying the ocean in Kahana

By Staff | Feb 18, 2016

A county project at 4909 Lower Honoapiilani Road includes removal of an existing rock wall and guardrail. 

KAHANA – Along the curve on Lower Honoapiilani Road above Kahana Sunset, construction is ongoing.

There’s a blood red-dirt gash on the makai side of the road, and only one lane is available heading south from Napilihau Road.

Last month, the Lahaina News queried David Goode, director of the county Department of Public Works, about the project at 4909 Lower Honoapiilani Road, and he was responsive.

“The old wall around the culvert had been undermined and was unsafe,” Goode explained.

The scope of work includes the removal of an existing rock wall and guardrail, clearing and grubbing, construction of approximately 104 linear feet of concrete masonry unit (CMU) retaining wall along the narrow shoulder, repaving and other incidentals.

This aerial shot shows muddy water along the Kahana coast.

The contractor is F&H Construction, Kahului. The price tag is estimated to be $262,474.

Anticipated completion is around late March or early April, “pending potential additional scope of work,” the contract reads.

Then late last week, a fly-by photo became local-viral, showing a reddish plume polluting the waters off the seawall-armored Kahana Sunset in Keoni Nui Bay.

Suspicions were raised; there had been no rain. “Who did this? Who is responsible?” Fingers were pointed; “Who can be blamed?”

Again, the County of Maui was immediate in its response along with the state Department of Health.

Goode was positive: “We confirmed it is NOT from our county project on the Lower Road.”

The Lahaina highways supervisor substantiated these findings: “After looking at the construction site, I see no signs of any runoff, and they have BMPs (Best Management Practices) in place.”

Further, the West Side highways overseer questioned a Kahana Sunset resident and staff member, and they both voiced the same observations about the brown water in the bay.

“When the high surf washes the top layer of sand away, it exposes the red bedrock material, causing the ocean to turn brown until the surf brings the sand back. They said it happens all the time; it was brown yesterday but clean today. Also, they said when water does come out from the seawall culvert, it’s usually clean, even when it rains.”

The state Department of Health inspected the site. These are their findings: “No evidence of any muddy discharge leaving the project site could be found. Spoke to the contractor employees, and they said no water lines were broken or any discharge was released from the site.

“Inspection of the Kahana Sunset grounds and the intakes for their stormwater system did not show any evidence of a muddy discharge. A longtime groundskeeper of Kahana Sunset told me the muddy water seen the past three days was due to the high surf taking away the sand from the shore fronting the condo. The exposed substrate is a clay-like material and very slippery. When this happens, the water becomes a coffee-like color.”

The county is thorough and has assigned Tara Owens, a coastal processes and hazard specialist, to investigate the situation.

Owens is with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, serving as a liaison to the County of Maui Planning Department.

She was hesitant to make a statement prior to the onsite inspection but allowed for this comment before the Lahaina News deadline.

“This may be a result of natural erosion of the clay bluff at the north end of the bay. With the very large and consistent high waves we’ve had lately, we’re observing severe erosion at many sites in West Maui and on the North Shore. Several years ago, there was also an acute episode of erosion of this bluff,” Owens observed.

Resident marine scientist Dr. Mark Deakos lives next door to Kahana Sunset. He has doubts about the cause and will be conducting his own review.

“I will also be getting some water quality equipment tomorrow, so I can take measurements to try and quantify the insult and understand what the problem is,” added Deakos, the president, founder and treasurer of a local nonprofit, the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research.

Results of the tests and onsite inspection, including an update on the impact of the consistent high wave activity on West Side properties, will be published on Feb. 25.