Sunday, April 2, 2017

Musings: Still Tragic

This is a poignant time of year for Kauai because it marks the anniversaries of two devastating and deadly tsunami. I always remember the dates because the first happened on April 1, 1946, the day my first husband was born, while the second occurred on March 6, 1957, the day of my own birth.

Each year, when these dates roll around, I am reminded that coastal residents in Hawaii are living on borrowed time. Or perhaps more accurately, in a fool's paradise. This is especially true on the North Shore of Kauai, where the April 1 tsunami leveled the Wainiha-Haena area and at least 14 people died — many of them children.
Now this very same area is lined with million-dollar homes, most of them sleeps-12 vacation rentals. Some of them have bedrooms on the ground floor, in direct violation of federal regulations. Though the YMCA camp at Haena was destroyed in both the 1946 and 1957 tsunami, it's now surrounded by expensive homes, including one listed for sale by anti-GMO filmmaker Teri Tico. It's not far from the ocean front TVR owned by her co-propagandists, Pierce and Keely Brosnan.

Though these Wainiha-Haena vacation rentals lure their guests with language about the soothing sounds of the sea right outside their door, they don't offer any sort of meaningful tsunami evacuation plan, except “head for the hills.” Or perhaps more accurately, kiss your ass goodbye.

According to media reports about the tsunami (emphasis added):

In addition Haena's isolation and its link to the rest of the island by several bridges made rescue efforts difficult. The 1946 tsunai hit with two powerful waves, with a maximum run-up of forty-five feet in elevation. All the bridges at Wainiha were washed out, and the tiny village of Wainiha itself was flattened. At Haena, most of the damage occurred on the flat at the Wainiha end of the ahupaa.
The area is still isolated, reached only by crossing the same small bridges that were washed out in '46 and again in '57. But the neighborhoods are now populated primarily with transients, making it difficult to create a viable community emergency response team.

Yet despite these very real dangers, and the area's vulnerability to tsunami generated by earthquakes in the Aleutians, it's the hub of high-end TVR action — the very same TVRs I highlighted in the Abuse Chronicles.

And all those Chronicled TVRs are still there. Even though I documented that the county had issued their permits improperly, none of them had their permits revoked. Worse, the county is still using the bogus valuation forumula that allowed homeowners along that coastline to rennovate and greatly expand their houses without having to elevate the structures to comply with federal flood laws.

But most everybody just keeps pretending like it's all fine. North Shore activists work themselves into a frenzy over imagined agricultural harms on the westside while ignoring the death traps in their own neighborhoods. The county keeps issuing building permits and collecting the property taxes; the Realtors and speculators keep flipping houses and driving up real estate prices. 

Stick your head in the sand, and worry about it later.

Though Wainiha-Haena is perhaps the most egregious example of this complete disregard for public health and safety, it's happening all along that Northwestern coast.

While the 1957 tsunami resulted in no deaths, it did cause $2 million in damges — double the amount of the 1946 disaster. Again, according to news reports:

Some 75 homes were demolished or damaged along the 15 mile strip between Kalihiwai and Haena. An estimated 250 persons were homeless. An estimated 250 persons were homeless. More than 1,000 were isolated when the Kalihiwai bridge crumbled under the power of the waves. Out of 29 homes that once stood at Haena, only four can now be lived in. A YMCA boys' camp, recently repaired from 1946 tidal wave damage, was washed out to sea. Power and telephone lines were down for a mile along Haena flats.

There are now far more than 29 homes in Haena. Coastal areas at Anahola, Moloaa, Kalihiwai and Anini have been heavily built up, and again, many of these structures are rented to hapless tourists.

I started digging into the North Shore TVR issue after a tourist died while jumping off an unpermitted dock at Wainiha. That led me down a rabbit hole of county corruption-incompetence that allowed a deadly tsunami zone to become a defacto high end resort.

While the county is now starting to work a bit harder on enforcement, and has taken commendable steps to prevent a similar proliferation of B&Bs and homesteads, the core problem remains. Meanwhile, illegal operators and their attorneys know how to game the system, tying up proceedings endlessly in court or contested case hearings as they meanwhile keep operating. 

I've given up all hope that the county will ever be able to deal effectively with this issue. But I still hope that Mother Nature doesn't provide her own tragic solution to this travesty of land use planning.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

And if Mother Nature does , the liability to the county will be devastating . Poor friggin planning.

Anonymous said...

Really, is the County liable?

Anonymous said...

Really, is the County liable?

Anonymous said...

Everyone who builds on the coast knows about the dangers, thanks to the fact that insurance hurricane or tsunami insurance is unavailable to them. But most of them are willing to take the risk, as they have back-up homes.

Anonymous said...

The only thing you accomplished with your TVR witch hunt was screw hard working people. The rich hire lawyers and carry on doing the same old thing, the local owners who rented vacation rentals to help make ends meet shut down, and the landscapers and cleaners who worked for the ones that got cease and desist orders get to work another job.

Anonymous said...

Joan: although the subject matter is tragic; this post is why I love reading you. I appreciate all the hard work you did on the abuse chronicles and am sadden nothing really came from it. Please do not lose hope and mahalo

Anonymous said...

Major tragic occurrence needs to happen before anything is done. They train in disaster preparedness each and every year and yet elected officials act as if they aren't educated or aware about these situations? Let them all DIE like people who text message or drink and drive-let them all DIE before they learn. Bumbai dey learn

Anonymous said...

Never lose the faith Joan you do good work @2:45& 2:56 have points we must accept as facts, in these instances of gross human stupidity I'm often reminded of the amount of mortality that must occur to have a simple crosswalk installed on a busy road, something I personally can relate to as a child. With all the effort civil defense is making in the early warning system that is the gamble the government takes. Let's hope it works. Again mahalonui for your efforts at exposing facts.

Anonymous said...

Millions live along fault lines and in tsunami zones. Who's running FEMA?

Anonymous said...

Good post. Thanks Joan.

Anonymous said...

2:45 Running an illegal TVR or B&B in a residential neighborhood is illegal. You are not hard working, you're a cheater who should move back to the mainland. You can rent it out long term like the rest of the locals do. You choose to violate the law and beg for a favor to do what you want. Bullshit!

Anonymous said...

"Locals" have vacation rentals and b&b too @12:14. Just ask ask Debbie and Lloyd Harriguchi https://www.vrbo.com/9013. I could post a 100 more. Joan conviently leaves out the brown skin renters because that's not part of the ax she's looking to grind.

Anonymous said...

https://www.vrbo.com/9013 Makes you a hypocrite. Meets all the criteria you are complaining about except the color of the skin and the socio economic status. There are hundreds of "locals" with vacation rentals yet somehow you are only capable of pointing out the rich haole ones?

Anonymous said...

The road could wash away in a big storm or tsunami.

Anonymous said...

Never any mention of the Ham-Young contradiction? "This property is owned and managed by lifetime Kauai resident. TVNC #1050" https://www.vrbo.com/410384

Joan Conrow said...

@5:38, 8:56 and 10:56
Get off your high horse and put down your ax. I've never maintained that locals don't operate vacation rentals. Indeed, if you'd actually read the Abuse Chronicles or my follow up reporting on those houses you would have seen the one local owner got called out, too. I focused on a very specific neighborhood because I had access to before and after photos. As it turned out, nearly all of those TVRs are owned by whites, many of them wealthy. I'd be willing to guess that's probably true on the rest of the island, but by no means is it an exclusively white thing.

Anonymous said...

It's clear you've got an ax to grind against wealthy people, even more so if they don't share your love of billion dollar corporations. Why else would specifically call our the Brosnans, and Teri Tico in a blog entry about tsunamis.

You need to start being honest. As a blogger, your credibility is all you have.

Joan Conrow said...

Tico and Brosnan were called out not because they're wealthy -- I don't think Teri even is especially wealthy — but because they engage in the hypocrisy of making up a problem on the opposite side of the island while ignoring — and even profiting from — the dangers in their own community. If you hadn't been so wrapped up in your own ax grinding, you would have seen that connection clearly spelled out in the post.

I've always been honest, unlike you, who intentionally misrepresents my views and has erroneous ideas about me and my life. A person who leaves anonymous, and often vile and hateful comments, as you do nearly every day, is in no position to be passing judgment on anything, especially my credibility.

Anonymous said...

Do you recall the Mina Morita blog from several years ago?

Anonymous said...

How many of those north vacation rentals do you think Hayley Ham Young has helped design? Quite a juxtaposition for that family. I wonder how Sam Lee feels about a local girl owning a vacation rental in Poipu

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Chris Kobayashi's vacation rental in Hanalei.

Anonymous said...

And at least be honest and note that the Hamm Young vacation rental is in Poipu, the visitor destination area, where vacation rentalsare permitted.

Anonymous said...

Yes, vacation rentals are far more lucrative than growing vegetables and taro.

Anonymous said...

Poipu has "vulnerability to tsunami generated by earthquakes" too

Anonymous said...

To all you crybaby Haoles owning illegal TVR's and B&B's, the difference between you and the locals is that the locals know and accept their violations. You Haoles, you point your finger at everybody when you get caught, irritating.

Anonymous said...

Joan's honesty and credibility are well respected. It's why so many read her blog.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but Poipu has roads that people can evacuate to higher ground, while the Hanalei area has 7one lane bridges along the coast to evacuate, and the road floods and closes. Evacuation from the north shore would be impossible given a locally generated tsunami.

Anonymous said...

If a big tsunami hits Kauai, tourists being trapped on the North Shore will be the least of our problems.

Anonymous said...

Trapped or dead?

Anonymous said...

Hopefully not dead, but even that would not compare to the devastation caused by a big tsunami. If there's a near-shore tsunami big enough to wipe out the north shore, tourists wouldn't be the only ones trapped and who knows what would be left standing.

Sam Lee said...

We've said many many times; if a TVR is properly permitted, which includes being located in the proper zoning district, we have no concerns. If you have a permit and are conducting your business with consideration and respect to your neighbors; welcome. If you don't have a permit and are operating illegally; you should the closed down. The color of ones skin has absolutely no bearing. It's the law.

Aloha, Sam

Anonymous said...

Haraguchi and Kobayashi got TVR permits. BenDor opearated TVR illegally and when they got busted pretended it was a B&B so they could get a permit. Totally different scenarios. Quit making it about race.

Anonymous said...

What's your stance Sam Lee on illegal structures and use in local neighborhoods. Are you so vehemently against those that convert garages into bedrooms, add non conforming space to existing houses, exceed the maximum capacity for bedrooms and septic? what if they are not are conducting their lives with consideration and respect for their neighbors? Certainly seems like it is the color of the skin if your not.

Anonymous said...


I've LIVED in Wainha ever since vacation rentals really started proliferating in Haena / Hanalei. Ask ME a question.

Anonymous said...

Who would you rather live next to, a tourist or an ice head? @12:09

Anonymous said...

When will the Abuse Chronicles "local style" be coming out?

Anonymous said...

When you have the balls to write it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, can't equate someone living in a shared house out of necessity with an illegal vacation rental on the north shore. That's racist and clueless.