Flood map changes have Kauai homeowners in race to rebuild

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Kauai homeowners whose properties were devastated by last April’s national-record rain are racing the clock to repair or rebuild before potential changes in flood maps and regulations.

Properties along a pricey stretch of north shore beachfront are going in for permits, meanwhile flood maps are being redrawn which could render some areas un-buildable.

Weke Road built up over decades to a high-end stretch of oceanfront multimillion-dollar mansions. Many were broken like matchsticks in a matter of 24 hours and nearly 50 inches of rain last April.

“When you take a look at that rain event and the radar map,” Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami told KHON2, “it looks like God had just put his thumb on the island of Kauai. It just wasn’t moving.”

Owners are still picking up the pieces, figuring out what can be fixed, and what will be hauled away.

“We have had a series of them come in looking for permits,” said Kaaina Hull, director of the Kauai County Planning Department. “Some of them do qualify as repairs. There are others that completely have to or are at the state where they have to demolish the home and then rebuild it.”

Those properties are listed here, in order of their Weke Road street address:

4895: Repair 

4906: Stabilize and repair 2 homes

4914: Demolition 

4922: Demolition

4926: Repair

5514: Demolition of 1, repair of 1

For those that seek to rebuild, they have to meet the shoreline setback rules, a minimum 60 feet for now. Always Investigating asked how rebuilding is being allowed in that area considering the scope of damage, foundations and sand that completely washed away beneath homes.

“The shoreline setback ordinance we have is based on historic erosion data,” Hull explained. “It is not an actual ordinance that puts in or plugs in flood impacts or flood activities.”

But that’s changing, and the clock is ticking for both the county and the owners.

“The flood standards and maps are being updated as we speak,” Hull said.

If people are rebuilding and they don’t win that race in time, they may be impacted by a future flood map.

“The sooner we can get a law into place to address these new impacts from flooding and from storm events the better,” Hull said.

Some regulators are eyeing a recent Hawaii State Climate Commission report as a stand-in before new flood maps are issued.

“The climate commission ultimately stated on the record, and have issued to effect, that it can be used for regulatory purposes,” Hull said. “But as far as each individual county now vetting those maps out for regulatory purposes it is very much of a legal question. Once you’re going into these properties and saying this is a new area that you can’t build in, you can bet your bottom dollar that some of these property owners are going to challenge that and challenge that in court as well.”

Farther up the road, the floods did manage to wash business out for many of the problematic illegal vacation rentals. Only residents and contractors with placards can even drive in and out of Haena and Wainiha due to much-delayed highway repairs that were supposed to be done last year.

“They’re anticipating, I believe, the last statement was end of April to the beginning of May,” Hull said, meaning the one-year anniversary of the storm will likely pass before the road is fully open.

But there are also a lot of operators of legal, permitted vacation rentals in limbo in that Haena and Wainiha zone. They have been blocked from doing any business since last April by the roadwork and also a mayor’s emergency proclamation prohibiting the rentals.

Always Investigating asked, have the owners come complaining since that’s their livelihood, especially for those who hold the legal certificates?

“Most definitely, there have been  multiple communications from those who hold legal certificates out there who operate legal vacation rentals,” Hull said. “It’s just that until the road can be finally opened up to the general public we really have to restrict traffic in and out of there as much as possible.

The county is asking the state legislature to give them the authority to start phasing out nonconforming vacation rentals, and also to regulate third-party websites to only allow permitted vacation rental operators to advertise. It’s not just a matter of taxation, fairness and legality – it’s a matter of safety in a disaster. Hull says evacuations from the area after the storm cost the county $1 million, much of it servicing visitors.

“Having actual legal folks and having those permitted allows us to be aware of those units that may have individuals or families not aware of evacuation routes, aware of where disaster relief can be found and immediately accessing those services and find out who is in there essentially,” Hull said.

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