Disconnect between city and state could cost taxpayers
THE RECENT spat over the Environmental Protection Agency's intent to rescind the waivers for the city's Honouliuli and Sand Island wastewater plants deserves a closer look. The waiver allows the city to operate both facilities without having to provide secondary treatment of effluent before ejecting it offshore. This waiver has been in effect for a dozen or more years, and upgrading the plants to full secondary treatment would cost the taxpayers an estimated $1.2 billion.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, with the support of Sen. Dan Inouye, disagrees with the ruling and says it is unfair and represents an unnecessary cost. The senator wrote to the EPA in March that pulling the waiver immediately might show everyone who was boss, but it would not get the treatment plants upgraded any faster. In fact, it might result in slowing everything down. In this scenario nobody wins, least of all Honolulu taxpayers.
Gov. Linda Lingle, on the other hand, quickly sided with the EPA.
In response to reporters' questions about the EPA decision, Lingle was quoted saying, "We support the EPA decision. We don't think the city should be dumping untreated sewage into the ocean" (Star-Bulletin, April 5).
THE MAYOR took particular exception to the "dumping untreated sewage into the ocean" statement. And, because the effluent undergoes primary treatment at both plants before discharge, it would appear that he has a point. The governor's statement is factually incorrect. He further questions whether the governor is adequately defending the interests of a large portion of her constituency: "It is unfortunate that the governor automatically chooses not to help the three-fourths of her constituents who call Honolulu home, but instead sides with those who do not live here and would impose their will on us."
The governor also seems to conveniently forget her past as the mayor of Maui in which she fought, tooth and nail, charges by the Sierra Club that "the Lingle administration flagrantly violated environmental laws" (Sierra Club, October 2002) and the EPA that sued her administration for Maui's repeated sewage spill violations.
The discussion that needs to take place should be about whether this expensive mandate from the feds is really justified for environmental and health reasons or, as the governor's chief of staff, Bob Awana, characterized Hannemann's statements, "highly political." (Star-Bulletin, April 6) It would be a huge disservice to the taxpayers of Honolulu to allow them to get stuck with a bill for $1.2 billion if it weren't really needed.
Several scientists and ocean experts, such as Richard Grigg, emeritus professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii, already have come forward and said that secondary treatment is unnecessary. They question whether mainland standards should apply to us and point out that the original waivers were granted by the EPA in light or our unique access to strong open ocean currents and proof that no environmental harm was done. Grigg has studied the impact of the outfalls at both locations and concluded that not only did they not harm the ocean and reef ecosystem, that they might in fact be beneficial! Certainly this indicates, at the very least, that we need more information and more public discussion on this issue before meekly rolling over to the feds.
Whether the EPA is reacting as a punitive response to past spills, prodded into action by persistent environmental groups, or just plain wrong on its scientific conclusions, it would be ill-advised and expensive to just assume that the federal agency is right on this issue.
THE MAYOR has dedicated more than 50 percent of his first three capital improvement budgets to repair of sewer lines, more than the previous administration spent in 10 years. His administration will continue to focus on upgrading our aging collection system and fight against any unneeded, forced expenditures on the treatment facilities that would distract from that effort. And he'll continue to push for a global settlement that would allow the city to deal with all aspects of our issues with the EPA in a reasonable and cost-efficient manner.
Keith Rollman is senior adviser in the city Department of Information Technology.