Group Opposed to Plans For Lower Hamakua Ditch
by Dave Smith
A group opposed to plans to modify the Lower Hamakua Ditch with plastic pipe today gained the support of several members of the County Council.
Testifying before the Committee on Agriculture, Water & Energy Sustainability, the group called Third Thursday Thrive said plans to modify the irrigation ditch would result in the loss of a culturally and historically significant feature in Hamakua.
Waimea attorney Margaret Wille told council members she represents two area landowners who have refused to sell their ditch easements. Wille said those final holdouts are the only reason the project has not moved forward.
According to the group, the state Department of Agriculture has hired a contractor to place 36-inch pipe into the ditch which would then be filled.
One of those holdouts, Edie Bikle of Kapulena, said there is only about 100 feet of the ditch on her 1½ acres of land but it’s a stretch she doesn’t want to lose. Bikle said she sometimes enjoys just sitting by the ditch, watching the wildlife it contains including crayfish, tilapia and even koloa ducks.
Group members said the ditch is the only place on the Big Island where the ducks are found. They are also seen on Maui, they said.
Bikle said she also uses water from the ditch for a large garden. She would have to have a meter installed to obtain water if the reconstruction project is completed.
Fernando Salas, a Waipio Valley farmer, told Big Island Now he was concerned about activities planned for the ditch’s water source above the valley, saying he has been unable to get answers about what is planned there.
Other group members said they too have had difficulties obtaining information about the project, including which government agencies are involved.
Several council members, including Angel Pilago of North Kona and Brenda Ford of South Kona, said they would support the group’s efforts to seek greater openness in the negotiations and planning for the project.
The group’s members include Hamakua residents Mitch Evans and Chelsea Yagong, daughter of council chairman Dominic Yagong.
Both Yagong and Wille are also candidates for County Council seats in the upcoming general election, with Yagong running in District 1 and Wille in District 9.
The ditch constructed by sugar plantations more than a century ago extends 26 miles from Waipio Valley to Paauilo. According to an environmental impact study done in 1999, the Lower Hamakua Ditch has a capacity of 13 million gallons of water per day.