City defends waste-water info campaign
Djou charges the sewage campaign is 'propaganda'
The city has spent more than $34,000 encouraging Oahu residents to protest a federal agency's call for upgraded sewage treatment in Ewa.
Newspaper ads blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its "tentative decision" to stop granting a waiver that allows only "primary treatment" of sewage at the city's Honouliuli plant -- and the likelihood that the same upgrade will be required at the larger Sand Island plant.
City expenses reported to the Star-Bulletin included the cost of fliers and a meeting facilitator but did not include the cost of a 24-page tabloid booklet and a video about the city waste-water system.
City Councilman Charles Djou questions whether the city materials are "propaganda."
The city is spending at least $34,000 and likely several thousand dollars more on a campaign to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the city an exception to federal law to keep dumping primary treated sewage into the ocean.
Money flows to inform us about sewage
Recent city actions urging residents to protest the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's March 28 tentative order to upgrade sewage treatment at Ewa's Honouliuli plant include:
» Five full-page, color newspaper ads headlined "Sewage Facts and Fiction" which included notice of the May 15 EPA hearing in Kapolei: $26,000.
» A flier announcing the city's May 9 sewage system informational meeting in Ewa Beach: $1,000.
» Two or more half-page, color newspaper ads inviting the public to the city's May 9 Ewa Beach meeting: $5,740.
» A professional facilitator to conduct the city's May 9 meeting: $1,050.
» Two or more half-page newspaper ads inviting the public to the EPA's May 15 hearing in Kapolei: Cost not provided.
» A 24-page, four-color tabloid booklet titled "Getting to Know Our Wastewater Management System," available at Ewa Beach meeting: Cost not provided.
» A professional video about city sewage treatment facilities: Cost not provided.
Known total: $33,790.
Source: City officials
More city information on waste water
Copies of the city Environmental Services booklet "Getting to Know Our Wastewater Management System" are available from city Environmental Services Department, 1000 Uluohia St., Suite 308, Kapolei, HI 96707; phone 692-05159; or at the Honouliuli sewage plant.
» City Environmental Services Web site: www.ENVhonolulu.org
» EPA's Honouliuli tentative decision document:
City spokesman Bill Brennan released information on some but not all of the city's spending, saying that some of the resources devoted to the campaign were already paid for and used in previous projects.
City Councilman Charles Djou is among those who question the correctness of the city using taxpayer money to lobby for its position.
"I'm not going to quibble with informing the public," Djou said, "but I think the administration crosses the line when it becomes propaganda."
But Eric Takamura believes the city is justified in its campaign warning of $300 sewer fees if Oahu's two largest sewage plants have to upgrade.
As city Environmental Services director, Takamura came up with the $300 figure, which he says could be an average sewer bill within 20 years.
That is if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forces the city to spend $1.2 billion in sewage plant upgrades -- while it is already committed to $1.5 billion in sewer pipe improvements.
Djou, who supports the city upgrading its treatment plants to EPA specs by 2020, said he considers the $300 sewer bill "an estimate."
Brennan said the city is justified in its spending because "this is a very important issue that could affect every resident who pays a sewage fee."
Money to pay for advertising, fliers and professional meeting facilitators came from the city Department of Environmental Services' operating budget for "public education and outreach," not from sewer fees, Brennan said.
However, Brennan would not share the cost of a video or a 24-page tabloid booklet about the city's waste-water works that were used May 9 at a informational meeting in Ewa Beach. He said those materials were not created for the Ewa Beach meeting, so "the city made efficient use of an existing resource by utilizing leftovers."
Donna Wong, who as executive director of Hawaii's Thousand Friends has followed city sewage issues for years, said she has never seen the 24-page information booklet nor heard about it.
Hawaii's Thousand Friends, the Sierra Club and Our Children's Earth are environmental groups that have sued the city multiple times, seeking upgrades to its sewage treatment system.
"We support getting the public out to a public hearing and being involved, because this is their island," Wong said. But, she said, "using public money to persuade how a person testifies doesn't seem to be a good way to spend public funds."
Wong said she believes former city administrations have made similar expenditures.
Not everything the city is doing for its "primary sewage treatment is enough" cause is costing money.
Takamura said there was no cost to the city in asking:
» Six local scientists familiar with sewage treatment and ocean environment issues to review the EPA's 122-page document explaining why it wants Honouliuli sewage treated more and give the city feedback.
» Members of the Hawaii Water Environment Association, a professional association for environmental engineers and scientists, to testify to the EPA on the city's behalf.
» City employees who agree with the city's stance to testify to the EPA and hold signs at the May 15 hearing.
» The EPA to extend public comment on its tentative Honouliuli decision until Aug. 27.
More than 600 people work for the city waste-water division, so it was not surprising that more than 100 came out on their own time to be at the EPA hearing, Takamura said.