Mayor defends sewage dumping
He blames the Harris administration for not addressing the issue of sewer maintenance
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann defended the city's dumping of 50 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Ala Wai Canal last month, saying his administration used it as a "last course of action."
Speaking before reporters at a Honolulu Hale news conference yesterday, the mayor blasted critics who say the city had other options besides pumping sewage into the Ala Wai as crews tried to repair a 42-inch sewer pipe that cracked on March 24.
"To have done otherwise would have left Waikiki, I believe, backed up with sewage that would flow into people's homes, residences, restaurants, hotels," Hannemann said. "Our quality of life would have been far more devastating and catastrophic."
Sierra Club of Hawaii Director Jeff Mikulina said yesterday the city did not explore other options like diverting the sewage into another manhole or using disinfectant or microorganisms to help kill some of the bacteria in the Ala Wai Canal.
"The first thing they could have done is contact the Health Department and the EPA to get their expertise and we know now that that is something they did not do," Mikulina said.
"There's a lot of armchair-quarterbacking going on in terms of what could have, what should have -- what have you," Hannemann said. "To me, very clearly, if people wanted their waste-water system improved, then they should have elected me mayor in 2000."
Hannemann blamed former Mayor Jeremy Harris and his administration for spending money on Waikiki parks and streets without also taking time to improve the infrastructure beneath.
"We are paying the price of deferred negligence," he said. "A billion dollars over ground in Waikiki, not a penny underground."
Mikulina said despite the mayor's protests, his group will continue to question the sewage spill and push for the city to do more to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"The public ought to play a role in this process. It affects us all and clearly poor decisions were made somewhere along the line," Mikulina said.
Whether the city will face any penalties for discharging the sewage into the canal -- which led to unprecedented closures of Waikiki beaches for several days -- will not be known until city officials explain their actions to the state Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a report due in three weeks. The EPA wants to know whether last month's sewage spill in Waikiki can be blamed solely on unusually heavy rains or whether the city could have prevented it by upgrading sewer lines.
Hannemann said the city made the sewers a priority and will spend $600 million within the next two years on sewer improvements.
"The threat of additional fines continues to hover over the city because of the lack of compliance by the previous administration," Hannemann said. "The possibility of these fines will place a huge financial burden on the city and will have large potential impacts on the general public. We are going to do things differently."
Mikulina said despite his criticism of the city's actions, the Hannemann administration does deserve praise for finally spending money to fix the sewer system.
"We are happy that there seems to be a little more focus and much more money spent on the problem," he said. "There is some movement in the right direction."