CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Kailua sewer project is in its third phase and is projected to be completed in late March. Marlon Bermudes, Blaine Silk and Pua Warren (partially shown), A-Team laborers from Frank Coluccio Construction, work on connecting the main sewer on Kalaheo Avenue to a lateral sewer line on Kuukama Street.
Kailua sewer line cranks up
While not all homes are connected, the new pipe is in place in time for winter
Three weeks ago, sewage started flowing in the new Kalaheo Avenue sewer pipe that has been under construction for seven years.
Not all the nearby houses have been connected to the new line, and above ground there is still tidying up and repaving that could take until March before Kalaheo is fully restored to two-way traffic, said Craig Nishimura, the city's deputy director of design and construction. There is also more work needed on a replacement waterline that is part of the same contract.
But the fundamental item -- a new, larger, nonleaking sewer line -- is in place in time for the winter rain. That is important because the old line is believed to have contributed to sewage pollution at Kailua Beach in recent years.
"There will be no issues at Kailua Beach, due to our portion of that line," said Bob Partridge, project superintendent for contractor Frank Coluccio Construction Co. "It should help tremendously on sewer spills."
"It's supposed to address that problem," Nishimura said, adding that the new pipe is not a guarantee there could not be spills from other sources. Another major sewer project in Kailua is out for bids now and expected to begin next year, he said.
Kailua Neighborhood Board member Donna Wong said she hoped the larger size of the new Kalaheo line -- 48 inches in diameter, up from the 36-inch diameter of the old pipe -- will end closures of Kailua Beach.
"We'll see," Wong said Friday after learning that the new sewer line is working.
Wong is executive director of Hawaii's Thousand Friends, an environmental group that along with the Sierra Club has a pending lawsuit against the city over its sewer problems.
The groups also have sued over sewer issues in the past.
The plaintiffs, city officials and the Environmental Protection Agency have held periodic settlement talks relating to the lawsuit this year, but no agreement has been announced.
Even before the infamous March spill of 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal, the city was facing up to $1 billion in EPA and state Health Department fines for sewage violations.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann pledged last year to spend an average of $165 million a year on sewer upgrades -- more than double the average annual spending between 1994 and 2005. The mayor has said he hopes the increased spending, backed by sewer rate increases, will help the city avoid fines.
The Kalaheo sewer line is four years behind schedule, at least $22 million over original projections and took three contractors to complete, Nishimura said yesterday.
Myron Fujimoto, branch engineer for the Department of Design and Construction, told the Star-Bulletin in February 2005 that the project was expected at that time to end up costing $55 million.
City officials were unable on Friday to provide up-to-date costs for the project.
Public attention was drawn to the deteriorating Kalaheo Avenue line in 1998 when a portion of it collapsed into a sinkhole, Nishimura said. At that time, plans for a replacement sewer already were under way, he said.
But the first contractor on the job in 1999, Delta/Kinsel, could not handle the job and was relieved of duty in 2000 after $10 million of work was completed, Nishimura said.
It was not until 2003 that the second contractor, Westcon Micro Tunneling, started work. The company was plagued by problems with its underground digging equipment running into metal sheet pilings left underground to stabilize the sandy soil when the first pipe was built about 50 years ago. They quit in 2004.
The third and current contractor for the job, Frank Coluccio Construction Co., has been at it since February 2005.