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Who Supports the Molokai Veterans?

Opinion by David Hafermann

The Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans have been striving mightily to satisfy a variety of complex, even contradictory, county requirements to obtain an SMA and now building permit for their Veterans Center. After years of trying to navigate through the county bureaucracy it has come down to a disagreement between two county departments about the adequacy of fire flow at the fire hydrant immediately in front of the veteran’s property. While it is agreed that the proposed Veterans Center needed fire flow is 1250 gallons per minute, the Department of Water Supply (DWS) says the flow rate is too low. In a letter dated May 11, 2010 the DWS chief engineer states “your proposed project would create a public safety issue, and as such, we must deny your request.” This decision was “affirmed” by the director of DWS in a July 23, 2010 letter to the veterans.

But the Department of Fire and Public Safety has signed off on the building permit. Indeed in public testimony at the August 3 County Council Water Committee hearing the fire department representative stated the fire flow was adequate, and the DWS director sitting next to him did not contradict that statement.

Who is more qualified to speak on issues of fire flow and public safety, the Department of Fire and Public Safety, or the DWS?

Well, let’s look at the facts that each uses to support their position. Both have measured flow rates at the fire hydrant in question. Both use the same formula in calculating flow rates. The DWS gets a flow rate ranging from 473 to 504 gallons per minute. The fire department gets a flow rate of 1,630 gallons per minute. How can there be such a difference? Once you see their worksheets it is obvious. The fire department measured flow at the 4.5 inch diameter outlet on the hydrant while the DWS measured at the 2.5 inch diameter outlet. Since flow is dependent on the square of the diameter, given the same head of pressure, the difference in flow from the 4.5 inch outlet will be over three times greater than the flow from the 2.5 inch outlet. Now guess which outlet will be used in case of fire! Or, in the event of a fire, will the DWS come over and forbid the fire department from using the larger outlet.

Finally, there is really no substantive issue of public safety with the DWS. They have agreed to have the County Council change the code for the building permit process such that they would not be required to sign off on building permits regarding the adequacy of fire flow. If they are willing to do that the veteran’s building permit would go forward, no longer a “public safety issue.” Unfortunately, a change in county code is not coming soon. So where does this leave the veterans and their center? They continue in bureaucratic limbo unless some leadership is demonstrated at the top level of the county administration. So who supports the veterans?

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