Maui County Officials Baffled About Why Big Sawdust Logs in Drains Did Not Stop Street Flooding


NORTH KIHEI HERO: An unidentified north Kihei resident works valiantly to pull one of those huge sawdust logs from a street drain during last week's heavy rain storm.

Maui County transportation officials are perplexed as to why the huge sawdust logs wedged into street drains all summer long failed to stop flooding in north Kihei once again.

On Monday, north Kihei residents continued to clean mud and debris from their neighborhoods, particularly on South Kihei Road.

They also pulled out huge sawdust whatchamacallits from the street drains once they could get to them.

"Whose idea was it to stick these huge logs of whatever, which get water-logged really fast once wet, into the drains that we see all up and down Kihei Road?" asked Patrick Akeakamai, who lives in the Kihei Villages condo complex up Uwapo Road.

Akeakamai joined a small group of his neighbors as they watched an unidentified man finally pull one of those soaked doodads out of a storm drain near ABC Store.

"It took us much of a day to clear away enough water, mud, and debris to even get to the darn things," said Joseph Ma'ema'e of north Kihei. "We've been calling and calling and calling to tell the county that those thingies are probably not going to work very well once we get another hard rain.

"But there they sat all summer, just drying out more so they could get even more water-logged and heavy in the rain, to expand and completely block all runoff water from leaving the roads."

Maui County transportation officials said they were told by the log supplier that they would help prevent water from going into natural channels and therefore out to sea, in effect making sure the ocean would not rise to levels dangerous for local roads.

"The sales guy at ACME Storm Drain Contraptions assured us that those log thingies would help overall to prevent flooding of the roads," said Nicodemus Kahewai of the Maui County Transportation Department. "Last time it was the swelling of the ocean that flooded South Kihei Road there. So experts said it would be wise to prevent as much water as possible from entering the ocean."

But experts from national flood control consultancies said blocking water would have little to no effect on the level of the ocean.

"We've never heard that one before," said Peter F. Gumbel, an engineer for the National Stop Flooding Easily Association based in New Orleans. The NSFEA is a nonprofit joint venture established to convince government leaders that preventing flooding does not have to be rocket science. "Then we heard it was on Maui, and we all kind of chuckled in the office. We still have photos of Kihei flooding craziness pinned to the wall in our break room. They make for good memes."

Gumbel says preventing flooding in this instance would not have been difficult.

"Our first recommendation would have been, once weather watchers predicted that even a bit of rain might be coming, to make totally sure all street and storm drains were clear of debris, as well as natural waterways so bushes and big tree trunks don't get stuck and clog at overpasses.

"Secondly, rain storm water does not just start where the houses are in Kihei. It begins way up stream, where there should be debris basins, or at least earthen dams to block or temporarily capture some of the water coming down from Haleakala, and at least slow it down as the storm passes," he said. "Trying to stop flooding piecemeal with Band-Aids never works."

Most everywhere else in the United States, Gumbel said, counties and municipalities have flood control plans or even special districts dedicated to flood control to prevent the kind of muddied mess we saw last weekend in Kihei.

And elsewhere in the United States, government entities make sure street drains are clear as much as possible pretty much all the time, he said.

Some Kihei residents said they've noticed the big water noodles in the storm drains all the way down near Kamaole Beach III.

"They're all over the place, and every time we saw one we'd chuckle lightly and say, 'Thank goodness it's summer and it never rains in Kihei, and that we have an attentive county administration working hard to ensure they will be removed before the next big storm,' " said Kim Rogers of the Kamaole Sands condominium complex.

"But, alas, they were not removed before the next big storm. They're all over the place, some even wedged further into the drains from all the water this time. We just thought it was someone's idea of a bad practical joke. I mean, who clogs storm drains purposely?"

On Monday, county transportation workers were super busy scouring Amazon for anything to help prepare quickly for the next big rain, which they hope does not occur before the November election.

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