City has tried to solve the sewer problem
THE Star-Bulletin's April 2 editorial, "Time has come to improve city's sewage treatment system," was sympathetic to the city's plight and was appreciated by those of us who have wrestled with the challenges posed by our aging infrastructure.
We must take issue with one statement, though: "(Hannemann) would do better to work with federal and state officials to bring Oahu's sewer facilities into compliance."
For more than two years.
Without delving into the legal complexities of the sewer mess we inherited, I can state unequivocally that we have been working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health for the past two years. We have flown, called, e-mailed and written, seeking to reach agreement on what's termed a "global settlement" that includes a system-wide, cost- effective, affordable approach to resolving all of our sewage collection and treatment problems.
In the meantime, to make up for what the EPA has called "decades of neglect," we hiked sewer fees and embarked on an aggressive plan of sewer upgrades, budgeting nearly $1 billion for fiscal years 2006-2008 for projects across the island. We've committed $300 million to upgrade our critical force mains and pump stations alone.
The EPA and DOH are stuck in a bureaucratic, "stovepipe" approach to the situation. They are trying to force the city to obligate itself (with penalties if we fail) to fixing one thing at a time, negotiating with different agencies and divisions on each thing, without knowing what the total package amounts to and without regard to whether we can afford it. Talk about death by a thousand cuts.
We even enlisted the help of our congressional delegation. Sen. Daniel Inouye went to bat for all of us, inquiring if the EPA was amenable to a global approach. He and I met with a senior EPA official, who offered hope that we could adopt such an approach. We ultimately were rebuffed.
The EPA denied a permit to allow our Honouliuli plant to discharge treated effluent far out into the sea. Sand Island is sure to follow. The city -- all of you -- now could be required to spend upwards of $1 billion to equip those plants to treat wastewater through a second process. This despite the fact that the EPA failed to act on our permit request for 12 years, and that our treated sewage is not harming recreation or marine life.
We have always welcomed substantive discussions with federal and state officials, and we will continue to do so if it serves our citizens' interest. Judging by the governor's comments last week, perhaps it is the EPA and DOH whom you should be encouraging to work with the city, not the other way around.