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Storm-ravaged subdivision in need of assistance

Updated: 
August 19, 2014 - 6:09am

It’s been 11 days since Kapoho’s Vacationland Hawaii subdivision was devastated by Tropical Storm Iselle, and neighbors there say they need more guidance and help as they continue to clean up their homes and the popular tide pools around them.

At a special meeting of the neigbhorhood association, residents discussed Monday their concerns with government agency representatives from Civil Defense, the state Department of Health, the University of Hawaii at Hilo and more.

“We’re planning a cleanup in the pond at Marz (Holman)’s place, and as you may know it’s giving off toxic vapors, so you’ll definitely want to bring a mask,” said Greg Braun, president of the Vacationland Hawaii Community Association.

Residents explained that when the massive storm surge swelled up into the neighborhood, it did more than just damage homes. It also picked up all manner of debris, including cans of paint, insecticide and herbicide, as well as petroleum products like motor oil and other toxic substances into the tide pools and ponds in the area. A vehicle was found upside down leaking fluids into one of the ponds, they said.

Meanwhile, a special, one-day-only pickup of hazardous materials from Iselle has been planned by the county for Saturday from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. near the Kapoho Kai Drive mailboxes.

What kind of impact the chemicals could have on the ocean water quality, not too mention the intrusion of waste from the 60-or-so houses out of a total of around 200 that continue to use cesspools, remained unclear, according to University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Misaki Takabayashi, chairwoman of UH’s Marine Science Department.

“We are working to sample the water, and do water quality research. Right now, we have basic data on nitrates and phosphates and salinity, but we don’t do testing for pesticides and petroleum products,” she said.

She did say that a “brown water” advisory was in effect for all shoreline water access areas from the Kapoho lighthouse all the way down to Kalapana, advising swimmers not to enter the water due to the possibility of overflowing cesspools, pesticides, animal fecal matter, dead animals, pathogens, chemicals and other contaminants associated with flood debris.

Amy A. Cook, an environmental engineer with the Department of Health, said she had been touring the neighborhood on Monday, looking for cesspools and septic tanks that might be leaking into the water.

“So far, I haven’t found any,” she said.

The area has long suffered from intrusion of fecal matter into the tide pools, and neighbors said they hoped that “something good” could come out of the destruction from the storm by leading more people to replace their aging cesspool systems with safer septic systems.

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, director of the county’s Environmental Management Department, explained that all homes will cesspool systems that were damaged in the storm would be required to be replaced with septic systems, while cesspools that weren’t damaged would remain grandfathered into existing code requirements.

Another piece of good new was delivered by Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira: Beginning Monday, crews would begin digging holes in and around the neighborhood to accomodate new utility poles.

“We’re trying to restore power as soon as possible,” he said. “They’re drilling the holes today to put the poles back in place.”

Meanwhile, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Association are continuing their preliminary damage assessment, which could lead to a major disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, opening up federal aid for those impacted by Iselle. Today was scheduled to be the last day to report damage for that initial assessment, Oliveira said.

Residents may call Civil Defense at (808) 935-0031, if they have not already reported their damage to the county or state.

Among other concerns raised by the Kapoho residents was that of security.

Braun explained that since roads had been opened up surrounding the neighborhood, residents had reported seeing non-residents driving around and looking suspicious. The neighbors there have set up a rotating watch at the entrance, asking people their business when driving into the neighborhood. They asked the police or the National Guard help to patrol or keep watch at the entrance to prevent looting/theft.

Kapoho resident and former Civil Defense adminstrator Harry Kim asked Oliveira to look into declaring the neighborhood a restricted area to prevent intrusion into the impacted area.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.