Hawaii & Alaska
The U.S. Army Corp wants to erect 6-foot-high walls as part of its Ala Wai flood mitigation project. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

HI - Honolulu Army Corps Still Won’t Restore Forests As Part Of Ala Wai Flood Control Project

Residents want more details on why the agency keeps rejecting that approach. The public has until Monday to comment.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving ahead with its reboot of the Ala Wai flood control project, an effort to help shield urban Honolulu from strong and fast-moving storm waters, after scrapping the previous attempt amid rising costs and controversy.

But the federal agency’s latest effort is already facing community pushback similar to the prior proposal, which abruptly ended in 2021.

That’s largely because the corp has rejected using ecosystem restoration as part of its new plan, even though residents in Manoa, Palolo, Makiki and other parts of the vital watershed have been asking for years for the agency to seriously consider a nature-based approach to the area’s flood control.

Instead, the corps is pursuing a plan that’s centered on erecting 6-foot-high flood walls around the Ala Wai Canal and using the Ala Wai Golf Course as a flood detention basin.

“I’m just so pissed about that,” said David Kimo Frankel, an attorney who represented Protect Our Ala Wai Watershed during the group’s attempt to alter the corps’ first flood-control plan before it was halted.

“They say they’re coming in with an open mind but then swiftly exclude nature-based (approaches) because it’s not going to be effective enough. Tell us what the criteria is – the data and the assumptions in their model,” Frankel said last week.

On Wednesday, corps project leaders said their latest analysis shows methods such as replacing the invasive albizia trees in the Ala Wai watershed’s upper reaches and restoring natural stream beds would generate hardly any flood-control benefits during a heavy storm for the 200,000 or so residents who live there, as well as Hawaii’s economically critical tourism hub of Waikiki just downstream.

Any changes to how the storm water flows down through the steep watershed thanks to those natural restoration efforts would barely be noticeable, said Eric Merriam, project manager for the corps’ Ala Wai Flood Risk Management Reevaluation Study.

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