Maui flood cleanup prompts questions, guidelines for permitted actions


On Maui, recovery efforts are in full swing after flooding devastated homes in Iao Valley.

But at what cost?

Maui County officials tell us that they understand people are trying to protect themselves from another disaster, but one resident called us to say work is taking place in the river, and he wants to know if this should be allowed.

“We don’t know who is responsible or in charge, but it’s just that that’s a private party just doing stuff amongst themselves in the river and redirecting the river, we just thought that was kind of totally wrong,” said Charlie Pico.

We checked with Maui County and learned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over the river.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made some recommendations. The county helped to send it out to the residents,” said county spokesman Rod Antone. “We heard that the regulations and guidelines were read during a community meeting on Friday, so we believe everyone is well aware of what they should or shouldn’t do.”

We obtained those guidelines outlining which actions require permits and which ones do not:

  • The Corps has the sole authority to determine which waterways are waters of the U.S. and which actions occurring therein do and do not require a permit. Please direct all inquiries to the Corps at (808) 835-4303 or to
  • Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires a permit for the temporary or permanent discharge or placement of dredged or fill material in waters of the U.S. The Wailuku River is a water of the U.S. Fill material typically includes rock, boulder, concrete, gabion baskets, sandbags, soils, sand, etc. These are materials that raise the bottom elevation of the stream bed. Placing sandbags in the stream to shore up a property will require a permit from this office.
  • The removal of accumulated debris, e.g. large boulders, fallen trees, etc., using an excavator or similar heavy equipment that picks up and does not push around the debris does not constitute a discharge of fill material and does not require a permit. Redeposition or disposal of the removed material back into the stream requires a permit. Disposal in uplands, not in a water of the U.S. and outside of the reach of the stream in an area not expected to be eroded by the stream, does not require a permit.
  • The reconstruction, in kind, in place, meaning with the same or similar material and without any expansion in any dimension in the stream (e.g., raising the elevation within the stream, expanding the lateral footprint upstream or downstream) of recently damaged structures (e.g. culvert, fjord crossing, retaining wall, etc.) is exempt from requiring a permit as it is considered a maintenance activity (33 CFR 323.4(a)(2)).
  • Emergency Procedures: The Corps defines an “emergency” as “a situation which would result in an unacceptable hazard to life, a significant loss of property, or an immediate, unforeseen, and significant economic hardship if corrective action requiring a permit is not undertaken within a time period less than the normal time needed to process the application under standard procedures” (33CFR325.2(e)(4)). In this case, immediate action can be taken to shore up a property (e.g. sandbags along the streambank) to prevent significant loss of the property. These types of activities are expected to respond to an immediate threat and are meant to be temporary. If the activity can wait to be done in the next week or so, then a permit can be processed in this time frame.
  • To apply for a Department of the Army permit, download an application online here.

We asked the Army Corps for an interview and received instead a statement that reads:

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will expedite any permit requests related to flooding in Iao Valley. The Corps of Engineers Honolulu District Regulatory Branch has been working closely with Maui County officials and other members of the regulated public to advise them on Federal permitting requirements related to the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District Regulatory Branch plans to conduct a site visit this week in order to better advise the regulated public and Maui County Officials.”

In the meantime, county officials say neighbors should exercise caution.

“What they may choose to do to try to protect their property, they should try to make sure it doesn’t affect their neighbors property,” Antone said.

Antone said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui as well as representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency will also be meeting later this week to give residents more guidance.

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