No ‘big fight’ needed, says EPA
The agency says its stance on Honouliuli does not stop the city from settling lawsuits
The federal Environmental Protection Agency still wants a settlement with the city over shortcomings in sewage collection and treatment, an agency official said this week.
The EPA said Wednesday it will not keep allowing the city's Honouliuli plant to release sewage treated to less than the national standard.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said Wednesday he thought that decision meant the EPA would not reach a "global" settlement over two pending citizen lawsuits against the city, violations of earlier agreements between the city and EPA, and consequences for the 48 million-gallon sewage spill into the Ala Wai Canal a year ago.
Not so, said John Kemmerer, EPA's associate water division director for the Pacific Southwest. The EPA decision on Honouliuli "shouldn't be seen as something that necessarily has to lead to a confrontation or litigation or a big fight."
"Our view is there's very clear criteria that need to be met to get one of these waivers" that the city seeks for both its Honouliuli and Sand Island plants, the only two in the state that do not treat all sewage to the secondary level.
Hannemann was not available for further comment.
Secondary treatment uses bacteria to remove organic waste from sewage, after it has gone through primary treatment, which removes solids, grit and debris.
"They really don't meet these criteria" at Honouliuli, Kemmerer said. "So, we think (it's) best to work out a schedule for upgrading the plant."
Kemmerer did not dispute Hannemann's contention that to upgrade the Honouliuli sewage plant might cost $400 million or that the larger Sand Island sewage plant could cost $800 million to upgrade if its waiver is denied as well.
Kemmerer said the EPA would be reasonable about the timing of sewage system work, to make it feasible for the city.
Of the 38 other EPA-regulated sewage treatment plants in the country with a waiver to release primary-treated sewage to the ocean, only seven are permitted to release 25 million gallons a day or more, according to the EPA.
The largest of those is San Diego, which has a permit for 240 million gallons a day. Honolulu's Sand Island plant, which moves 82 million gallons a day, is second largest. Honouliuli is permitted for 38 million gallons a day, of which half is treated to higher levels but half receives only primary treatment.