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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 1, 2010

Hawaii taxpayers on hook for $1.5M in Kaloko Dam settlement

By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer

LĪHU'E, Kaua'i The state has agreed to pay $1.5 million of a reported $25 million global settlement of lawsuits related to the 2006 Kaloko Dam failure, the attorney general's office reported yesterday.

The state must ask the Legislature for the $1.5 million to pay its portion of the settlement.

There are about 60 lawsuit plaintiffs, including families of the seven people killed when the Kaloko Dam broke on March 14, 2006, and owners of private property that was damaged by the accident.

On Oct. 29, the parties agreed to settle all lawsuits out of court. They also agreed to keep details of the settlement secret.

The Advertiser asked state Attorney General Mark Bennett in a Nov. 2 letter to make public the amount the state agreed to pay, citing the state's open records law.

The state agreed to do so, and on Dec. 21 the state filed a motion asking Kaua'i Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe to allow the information to be released.

On Tuesday, Watanabe said she would allow the unsealing of the state's share of the settlement.

The judge said no parties to the lawsuit objected to the state revealing its share. She also noted that no private parties to the lawsuit have to unseal their shares of the settlement.

Kaua'i attorney Teresa Tico, who was part of a team that represented many of the plaintiffs, said yesterday that resolving multiple wrongful death and property damage lawsuits out of court has been "a very long settlement process."

"We're just relieved that there will be something for everyone," in these tough economic times, Tico said.

"The important thing is that the amount is now out" for the state's share of the settlement, Jeff Portnoy, The Advertiser's attorney, said yesterday.

"It shouldn't have taken all this time," Portnoy added. "But we appreciate that the state has released the amount of the funds and are hoping that Kaua'i County will release its amount as well."

Kaua'i County was also to make a payment to settle the case. Kaua'i attorney Al Castillo couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

In addition to the state, defendants in the lawsuit include: Kaua'i County; current and former owners of Kaloko Dam and Reservoir, including retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger; engineering firms and contractors that did work in the area; insurance firms; and the irrigation company that distributed reservoir water to farmers.

Neither the distribution of settlement money to the plaintiffs nor the amounts paid by private defendants in the lawsuit are expected to be made public, Portnoy said.

Pflueger, 83, is to stand trial April 12 on seven manslaughter charges and a reckless endangerment charge in connection with the Kaloko incident.