Sunday, October 19, 2003

Community asks more
studies on sludge plant

Sand Island business owners pushed for a more complete study on the possible health and environmental effects of a $34 million sludge conversion system proposed within a mile of their shops.

"We're right next door," said Rodney Kim, executive director of the Sand Island Business Association. "Our fear is that once the plant is built, to remedy any problems would be difficult."

More than 60 tenants of the Sand Island Industrial Park attended a meeting at Puuhale Elementary School in Kalihi yesterday, at which representatives from Houston-based sludge conversion company Synagro Technologies presented a slide show and answered questions.

Many attendees asked the company that plans to build the sludge conversion system at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to conduct a full environmental impact statement study.

Kim said the additional study is needed because of health concerns and cited community action groups in New York, where another system is housed, that allege their conversion plant emits odors and has made people sick.

But the company, contracted by the city to build and maintain the plant, said because an environmental assessment completed earlier this year found no public safety concerns, an impact statement is not required under Hawaii law.

"We don't need one," said Don Clegg, the project's planning consultant. "We have gone through the process. It doesn't make any sense to do it again."

The proposed system would convert 25,000 tons of sludge annually into 6,000 tons of dried fertilizer pellets, which would be sold commercially.

The system would be on a 1.1-acre site within the sewage treatment plant and include a 116-foot sludge storage tank, an egg-shaped container at the same height called a digester, and a solids-handling building and incinerator.

Currently, the sludge is trucked to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill.

The council's Zoning Committee gave preliminary approval in late July for a special management area permit for the company's proposed In-vessel Bioconversion Facility. If the City Council gives final approval to the permit in its upcoming December meeting, the sludge system could be finished by late next year, Clegg said. An impact statement would throw that timeline off by nine months.

The council deferred approval of the system's permit in its September meeting, pending more community discussion.

City Councilman Romy Cachola, whose district includes the industrial Sand Island area, said the system may pose some serious health and safety questions, and that an impact statement could erase the fears that some residents and those who work in the area now have about the plant.

"I believe the community has a right to demand that," he told the meeting's attendees. "Don't tell me the processing of sludge is not going to have negative impacts."


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