The Kailua wetlands that were partially filled can be seen in this DLNR aerial photo.
2 companies ordered to clean wetland
Nearly an acre of wetland in Kailua that was illegally covered with construction dirt and debris must be cleaned up and returned to its natural state under an order announced yesterday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA ordered Coluccio Construction Co. and landowner Kaneohe Ranch Co. to remove the fill and restore the wetland area next to Hamakua Stream, mauka of Hahani Street. Neither the company nor the landowner had a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use the area for dredge and fill activity.
TO MAKE A REPORT
To report possible violations in wetland areas, call:
» U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: 438-9258 or 438-7023
» Environmental Protection Agency, Honolulu office: 541-2710
Kailua Neighborhood Board member Donna Wong said residents had raised red flags about the work and pressed Coluccio Construction and Kaneohe Ranch Co. on the issue without success.
"Clearly the companies were wrong, and that was brought to their attention," said Wong, who chairs the Planning, Zoning and Environment Committee. "And they probably could have corrected it before it went to the EPA, if they were inclined to listen to the community and say 'Auwe, we weren't aware, let us handle it.' But that was not their stature or their actions. They chose to ignore the community."
Dean Higuchi, press officer for the EPA's Honolulu office, said his agency has not determined whether to impose fines.
The issue dates back to 2002, when Coluccio started using the site as a baseyard while it worked on a sewer project. It removed mangrove trees from wetlands, and stored construction equipment and materials on the site. Yesterday, Kaneohe Ranch issued a statement blaming Coluccio for the problem.
"Coluccio had indicated to Kaneohe Ranch that it had the necessary work permits and we were disappointed to eventually learn that this was not true," Kaneohe Ranch said. "When we learned it failed to obtain the required permits, we terminated our license agreement. We take the EPA finding very seriously and will hold Coluccio Construction to its original license agreement."
That agreement, signed in 2002, required Coluccio to obey all laws and obtain necessary permits. Coluccio Construction did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Discharging dredged or fill material and creating or realigning drainage ditches in wetlands or streams requires a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
"When working in wetland areas, it's vital to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and obtain needed permits well in advance of dredge-and-fill activities," said Alexis Strauss, the EPA's director for water programs in the Pacific Southwest region. "This order will benefit the Kaelepulu-Hamakua-Kawainui wetlands by restoring an area that protects the coastline, and provides flood storage and habitat for water birds such as the endangered Hawaiian stilt."
The EPA order requires the companies to stop discharge of fill material, and submit within 45 days a plan to remove the material, restore the wetlands and control invasive plants. The companies must notify EPA when the work is complete and monitor the site and submit annual reports to the EPA from 2007 to 2011.
Acting on complaints from residents, the Army Corps of Engineers had advised Coluccio and Kaneohe Ranch in February 2005 to stop their work. Inspections by the Hawaii Department of Health and EPA later found stockpiles of excavated soil and rock. Last November, EPA followed up and found that the stockpiles and construction equipment had been removed, but compacted material, including soil, gravel and some asphalt remained.
Higuchi credited the community for spotlighting the problem.
"Communities in wetland areas can help be our eyes and ears, and I think that's an important message," Higuchi said. "We've got only so many inspectors and so many people. If something doesn't look right, give us a call."