A presidential disaster or emergency declaration request is slated to be ready for the governor to submit to Washington in just over a week, Always Investigating has learned.

But whether the bar will be met for FEMA money is far from guaranteed. It’s also complicated by some high-dollar damage, on Kauai in particular, that won’t be able to be counted toward the federal threshold. 

When the epic flooding left behind damage across areas of the Garden Island, we wanted to know what it’s going to take to assess it all, not just in scope but in cost. Who is going to pay for it, and when?

Damage assessment teams are going street by street, house by house on Kauai to take note of what was lost. 

“The information will be provided to the state emergency management agency, which then in turn will provide it to the governor,” explained Casey De Shong, a FEMA representative involved in the FEMA flood assessment. “The governor will be able to include that data in a request for a disaster declaration if he chooses.” 

Vern Miyagi, retired Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator who went through the Hurricane Iniki aftermath, says he was asked to help out in HiEMA’s Kauai flood response and damage tally. He told the Kauai County Council on Wednesday that the joint preliminary damage assessment or JPDA should be done this Friday, a report compiled over the weekend, turned into the governor, and says Gov. David Ige should be able by May 4 to submit a declaration request to the feds. If Washington issues a declaration, Miyagi says it could be by May 10. 

There’s no set damage number that clears the bar for federal help. It’s a matrix of things like per capita impact, drain on local government resources, how recent a last disaster hit, even private insurance in force or severity and count of primary dwellings damaged. 

“We’re very much trying to qualify people for the federal assistance,” said Steven Hunt, Kauai County Real Property Tax Manager, who is part of the damage assessment team. “We are trying to find, as bad as it sounds, we want to find more damaged properties because it will help the community that really needs it.” 

As of earlier in the week, Always Investigating learned 66 homes had major damage, 15 were completely destroyed. We asked Hunt, ballpark islandwide, what does he think the count might come out to in the end? 

“Difficult to say,” Hunt said. “We have seen at least 100 homes so far or been self-reported from some of the areas we can’t reach that have either major damage or have been completely destroyed.” 

But to count for the federal threshold, those have to be people’s primary homes, and a lot of the worst damaged, highest value structures are second homes and vacation rentals. One owned by folks in Oregon got swept away in the Wainiha area. It could have been even worse. 

“That home we recently actually had cited as an illegal transient vacation rental,” said Ka’aina Hull, Kauai County deputy planning director. “On March 22 we issued a notice of violation and a cease and desist. They actually came in relatively quickly and were able to work out that they were going to shut down, and they gave us verification right before the flood that they had canceled their most recent reservation, which was scheduled for two guests from April 15-19, so they would have been in the flood zone had that happened.” 

If and when federal help comes, it will likely be for two kinds of programs. 

“We provide assistance to repair and replace public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, utility lines that get damaged,” De Shong from FEMA explained of the 75 percent federal reimbursement of qualifying expenses. Separately, “there is an individual assistance program where we help homeowners and renters with rental assistance and some home repair. The U.S. Small Business Administration becomes active and they can provide low-interest loans to homeowners.” 

FEMA’s individual assistance payouts are limited at $34,000 per household, if we get that presidential disaster declaration. 

“It’s really just a helping hand to help homeowners and survivors on their way to recovery,” De Shong said. “Most of the assistance and recovery that they’re going to find helpful is either from their insurance or the low-interest loans.” 

“I think the people who maybe don’t have insurance or adequate insurance, or certainly don’t have flood insurance, and are living there as their primary residence, those are the people that are trying desperately to get that gap money from FEMA,” Hunt said. 

Meanwhile the county Emergency Operations Center is spending about $70,000 a day in daily “burn rate” expenses, a fluctuating rate depending on the assets that are used on any given day such as aircraft and barges which are helping connect the communities cut off by the landslides along the roads. On Wednesday the Kauai County Council approved releasing a first $5 million out of a $14 million emergency fund to help cover spending until the hoped-for federal reimbursements kick in.

We will be following up closely on all the damage assessments, also where the funding is going to come from to get normalcy back to the Garden Island. 

Other sources of money

$100 million from state legislature
$5 million from Kauai County $14 million emergency fund
Federal Highway funds 80% federal, 20% state split
Specific agency programs, such as agriculture relief
Private insurance and flood insurance

Damages and costs so far

Weke Road 2.2 million
Kahiliholo Road 1.1 million
Wainiha Powerhouse Road, unknown
Other various streets $20,000-$30,000 each

What’s still being tracked down for the damage report

Public infrastructure
Other roads and highway
Solid waste gathering and removal
Evacuations of residents and tourists
Air and sea resources
Fuel and utilities