City required to fix 6 key sewer pipes
The federal agreement comes after last year's spill of 48 million gallons
The city will replace or repair six crucial sewer pipes and build backups for four of them in an agreement filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.
"I think everyone understood that the goal was to prevent another catastrophic spill," said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Dean Higuchi. He was referring to the 48-million-gallon spill of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal in March 2006, which closed Waikiki beaches for a week and sullied Honolulu's reputation.
The City Council approved the deal a week ago and Mayor Mufi Hannemann included $300,000 in the budget to get started.
The city promises to fix six major pressurized sewage pipes that pose the greatest risk of environmental and health damage among the city's wastewater lines.
The so-called force mains pose problems because they are in poor condition, are near the ocean and lack backup systems.
The City Council approved the agreement between the city and the state Health Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department last week, and it was filed in federal court yesterday.
"It's good news," said Donna Wong, spokeswoman for Hawaii's Thousand Friends, an environmental organization that has brought several lawsuits against the city over sewage issues. "It looks like we're on our way to protecting the public health and ocean environment."
One of the six force mains in the agreement -- Beachwalk -- brought attention to how disastrous their failure can be when its rupture in March 2006 forced the city to divert 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal. It was the city's largest sewage spill ever and closed Waikiki beaches for a week.
The new agreement doesn't address whether the EPA could still levy a fine against the city for the Beachwalk spill, EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi said yesterday.
"We need to do this work," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said in a statement last week after the City Council approved the agreement.
Hannemann said his fiscal year 2008 budget includes funding for condition assessments of the six crucial force mains during the next two years and to begin work on backups for three of them -- Beachwalk, Ala Moana and Kaneohe/Kailua.
"As costly as all of this might be, we don't want another spill, and we are allocating significant sums of money to restore the integrity of our sewer infrastructure, particularly a collection system that EPA has said has suffered from 'decades of neglect,' " Hannemann said.
"In the meantime, I will continue to push for a global settlement with the EPA on the remainder of our wastewater system, specifically our 301(h) waivers for the Honouliuli and Sand Island wastewater treatment plants and the balance of our collection system," Hannemann said.
The state and federal agencies also expressed a desire for a broader settlement in the future.
In addition to finishing a new Beachwalk force main by 2012, the agreement requires new force mains at Ala Moana and Kaneohe/Kailua by 2014. It also lists a Hart Street force main completed in 2001.
The agreement also requires:
» The Beachwalk, Ala Moana, Hart Street and Kaneohe/Kailua force mains to have backup lines, either by rehabilitating the old lines or by making the new lines "dual barrel" pipes.
» The city to assess the condition of the Waimalu and Kahala force mains, replacing or repairing them as appropriate. The assessments must be done by January 2009.
» An assessment by January 2008 on whether the Beachwalk pump station can be repaired or must be replaced.
» Spill contingency plans by January 2008 to show how any spill would be minimized -- specific to each of the six force mains of concern.
"No one wants another repeat of the Ala Wai," Higuchi said. "That motivated everyone from the federal level to state to county to really try to get something done."
The agreement can be seen online at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/ Consent_Decrees.html. Public comment will be taken on the agreement for the next 30 days.
FOCUS ON FORCE MAINS
To prevent a major spill from a pressurized line near the ocean, the city will:
» Replace pipes at Ala Moana, Kaneohe/Kailua, Beachwalk (in progress) and Hart Street (done).
» Install backup pipes at Beachwalk, Ala Moana, Kaneohe/Kailua and Hart Street.
» Assess and repair current lines to ensure no spills before the new lines are ready.
» Repair or replace the Beachwalk Pump Station.
» Create spill contingency plans for each of the six vulnerable force mains.