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Hawaii to remove rocks from Kalihi hillside

HONOLULU — A state contractor will demolish and remove unstable rocks from a Honolulu hillside where boulders came loose and crashed into three homes last week.

All five members of the Board of Land Natural Resources voted to approve the plan at an emergency meeting on Friday. A contractor will be hired to remove the rocks from private property in the hills above Kula Kolea Place in Kalihi, and the state will sign an agreement with the landowners to enter the property.

The land is owned by William and Shirley Jacinto and the Church of Christ of The Redeemed of the Lord. The church doesn't have the money to remove the boulders.

Funds for other rock fall mitigation projects will cover the estimated $150,000 cost, which is less than the $250,000 the department initially expected it would have to spend on the work, board Chairman William Aila said. Lawmakers are appropriating funds to replace what the department uses.

The state is taking action because the governor wants to protect public safety and because state legislators have provided financial support, Aila said.

"It's something that we don't budget for all the time. So the fact that the money was so quickly allocated and guaranteed allows us to move forward with this mitigation process," he told reporters after the board vote.

Boulders crashed into several houses on April 12, leaving two uninhabitable and forcing the evacuation of 12 homes. There were no injuries. Emergency management officials have told residents they may return at their own risk, and most have opted to stay in their homes.

Residents are eager for the work to be done.

"The sooner that you can get those rocks stabilized or removed, the sooner we can start sleeping at night," said Lance Collins, who lives in the neighborhood below the hillside, testified to the board.

Aila said the work should take place early next week. One landowner is ready to sign the papers immediately but the state has to track down the others, he said. The contractor will need one day to set up and one day to complete the job.

There was some discussion at the meeting about liability for either the state or private landowners. Aila explained the state's position is that owners of land that's in a natural state and hasn't been developed aren't liable for events like rock falls.