$41M sewage retrofit still afoul of EPA
Unveiling the Honouliuli upgrade, the mayor says he will keep fighting the extra treatment required
A $41 million city project to reduce bad odor and renovate Ewa's Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant will not address concerns by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the plant's ocean discharge, city officials said yesterday.
In a preliminary decision last month, the EPA is threatening to deny the city a waiver to the federal Clean Water Act and order that waste go through another treatment layer at the plant before being dumped through an 8,760-foot underwater pipe. That is because the agency found bacteria levels near the plant's 200-foot-deep offshore pipe exceeding national standards for recreational areas.
During a groundbreaking at the plant yesterday, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said the money will pay for upgrades required under a 1995 judicial consent decree mandating that the city improve the sewer system.
Equipment at the 22-year-old plant, which treats 27 million gallons of sewage daily from Ko Olina to Red Hill, will be replaced to better handle waste and reduce sediment. The city risked being fined if it did not improve the plant, Hannemann said.
"It's easy to go to a park dedication, a swimming pool dedication, a soccer field dedication," the mayor said as a strong stench blew through a tent where officials met for a news conference and lunch. "This is the kind of stuff that is oftentimes neglected ... the kind of stuff people don't like to talk about, smell or even care."
Kurt Fevella, a longtime Ewa resident who chairs the neighborhood board, said he was glad the city was addressing the odor, which has been a problem for years.
"Our system is outdated," he said. "We've been grumbling since I've been in high school."
Meanwhile, Hannemann continued to challenge the EPA's findings about Honouliuli's waste discharge. The additional treatment phase proposed by the federal agency would cost $400 million and bring sewer fees to $300 a month, he said.
"We are open to an advanced level of treatment, but we don't feel it has to go to a full secondary system," Hannemann said. "We are prioritizing the collections system -- that's where the sewage spills occur. That's what we should be fixing first."
In a full-page color ad in yesterday's Star-Bulletin, the city defended its case against EPA. It quoted University of Hawaii oceanographer Richard Grigg as saying that an analysis of the Honouliuli plant showed no "potential environmental impacts on coral reefs and human health."
City Councilman Charles Djou said the informational ad, which criticizes Gov. Linda Lingle for siding with the EPA, crossed "into political advocacy on a controversial and unsettled public issue." In a letter to the city Department of Environmental Services, he asked whether taxpayer money or sewer funds had paid for the ad.
Messages left with the department were not immediately returned.
Dean Higuchi, spokesman for EPA, said the agency had no comment about the city's position on the Honouliuli plant. The agency is accepting public comment on its decision until May 29.