Kawela Bridge Construction on Hold

For years, residents of east Molokai have been waiting on improvements to Kawela Bridge to prevent flooding during heavy rains that leave nearby yards filled with debris and the highway occasionally impassible. The estimated $8.4 million project began last summer and completion was expected this January. Now, state permitting delays likely mean construction will continue through next summer, according to officials at Goodfellow Bros., the company contracted for the project.

Work on the bridge has been on hold since early March, said Todd Svetin, Goodfellows project manager. That’s when a state permit relating to water quality expired, according to Caroline Sluyter, the public information officer for the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

“We apologize for the delay and we’re working really hard to get this tied up as quickly as possible,” said Sluyter.

She said the Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch expressed concerns about water run-off of the Kawela Stream related to the bridge construction around the same time the permit expired. Those concerns have caused additional delays in its renewal, Sluyter said. She could not give details about the nature of the permit, but said the concerns had to do with implementation of the erosion plan being different than the plan as stated in the permit.

“We didn’t anticipate [the delays], but we have to work through it,” said Svetin. He said he expects construction on the bridge to resume next month.

The new bridge will be almost 20 feet wider than the former bridge, allowing for a 10-foot wide shoulder on each side of the highway, according to DOT officials. The streambed under the new bridge will be lined with concrete to protect the banks from erosion and to facilitate maintenance.

Currently, a detour route makai of the former bridge allows traffic to continue traveling across Kawela Stream on Kamehameha V Highway about five miles east of Kaunakakai.

The former bridge, constructed in 1940, did not conform to current state and federal highway standards, according to a 2009 draft Environmental Assessment of the bridge. In addition, the structure was deemed “hydraulically inadequate” to handle flooding of Kawela Stream.

Local residents hope the bridge will mean an end to frequent flooding of the area. But many are frustrated with the construction delays.

“It’s unfortunate that this project is being held up because of what   seems to be insufficient foresight in obtaining a necessary permit,” said nearby homeowners Frances and Bill Feeter, via email.  “Delays in construction may possibly cause residents to be flooded again.”

Svetin said he does not foresee flooding as a result of the delay.

The stream is currently diverted to allow construction, he said, and once work resumes, pumps will be turned back on to control water in the work area. He said a potentially high flow of water in the stream might necessitate a temporary pause in the work, but likely would not cause damage or overflow. He said the culvert has already shown it can handle heavy rain last March.  And once the bridge is complete, he said, there will be even more water flow space underneath.


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