Many Hawaii farmers and ranchers say the cost of complying with proposed safety rules regulating dams and reservoirs will be more than they can afford and that they’ll be turning to the state Legislature for financial aid.
“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Alan Gottlieb, a past president of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.
The proposed administrative rules were approved by the state land board Monday and forwarded to Gov. Linda Lingle. The governor’s approval is required before they take effect.
The rules would regulate 138 reservoirs in Hawaii that have the capacity to hold 5 million gallons or more.
State officials said the increases in fees would pay for costs of enforcing the new safety rules.
Critics say that besides the high cost, the regulations would discourage the operation of existing reservoirs, many of which operate on narrow profit margins.
One of the largest regulated reservoirs is at the city’s Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe.
The reservoir, built as a flood-control project, usually stores 84.7 million gallons but has a capacity of 1.4 billion gallons, according to the state.
Farmers and ranchers say that while they support safety regulations in light of the 2006 Koloko Reservoir dam break on Kauai that killed seven people, the proposed rules place an unreasonable burden on businesses.
Gottlieb, whose association represents 130 members, said the Big Island’s Ponoholo Ranch Ltd., of which he is treasurer, has a 10 million-gallon reservoir that is a “low hazard” and far from any homes.
He said under the proposed rules, the ranch would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies, in addition to construction costs.
He said the reservoir is about 50 years old and has stood the test of time.
“There are many reservoirs that have been around a long time that have not failed,” he said.
Gottlieb said members of his association is hoping to receive support from Hawaii lawmakers and residents who want to move toward self-sufficiency in producing food within the state.
Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, said the proposed rules would raise the cost of maintenance for owners of reservoirs, and that those costs could be passed on to consumers.
Watanabe, whose group has 180 members, said he’d like to see the state absorb the cost of maintaining Upcountry reservoirs operated by the county.
“If we didn’t have agriculture, we wouldn’t be able to talk about sustainability,” he said.
Alexander & Baldwin Inc. official Wayne Katayama said his company, with 18 regulated dams and reservoirs on Kauai and 30 on Maui, is against the proposed increased cost of dam permits and annual fees.
Katayama said the permit fees have been increased from $25 to 2 percent of the estimated cost of construction.
He said the firm would like to see a sliding scale imposed that would allow the percentage to drop as the cost of construction rises.
Katayama said the firm’s coffee operations on Kauai and sugar business on Maui have been struggling and lost about $45 million over the past two years.
DAM SAFETY COSTS
Increased costs associated with proposed rules for dam and reservoir safety include:
» Safety permits, rising from $25 to 2 percent of the estimated cost of construction, including engineering costs.
» Annual fee of $500 per dam, plus $110 per foot of the height of the dam or reservoir.
» Fee for certificate of approval to impound water, $400 every five years.
» Significant or high-hazard dams may be required to have a stability analysis and pass inflow design standards.