Private owner was the cause of sewage leak
I live along Kaneohe Bay. I got home about 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 8, to find signs warning to keep out because of sewer-contaminated water and that exposure may cause illness. The signs don't say what happened, what's in the water or who to call to get information. On a Friday night, there was no one to call. The next day, I saw two more signs posted at Heeia Kea Harbor. Despite that, hundreds of people were out at the sandbar. If it's too dangerous to go in the water, why isn't anything being done to keep people out and why isn't there more information?
Answer: The signs were posted by the city "as a favor" to the state Department of Health, said Watson Okubo of the Clean Water Branch.
He apologized for the lack of information, but said officials had expected the problem, which started out as "a simple pump-out situation," involving an overflowing cesspool, to have been fixed on Friday.
The owner of the private property along Kamehameha Highway where the leak occurred faces fines from the department's Wastewater Branch and possible fines from his branch for not taking immediate action, Okubo said.
The city had sent a crew to the property on June 7 after receiving a complaint about a sewage leak. Workers found a constant flow of sewage-smelling water, about 1 to 2 gallons a minute, coming from a crack in a culvert, Okubo said. The area is not served by a sewer line, so homes are supposed to have cesspools. The city attempted, unsuccessfully, to contact the property owner three times that night to tell him he needed to get a pump truck immediately.
Okubo was notified of the leak that night. Signs were posted as a precaution, although, at that time, officials did not believe any contaminated water had gone into the ocean.
On Friday morning, an inspector with the Clean Water Branch spoke to the owner and told him he needed to pump out his cesspool immediately. The owner said the pumper was coming that day, Okubo said.
Because the shoreline in that area is not accessible by the public, and because it could not be verified where the water was going, no public notice was given, he said.
After our inquiry, the inspector went back yesterday to follow up, finding that the flow was three times higher than on Friday.
"We made it very clear (to the owner) that not pumping out (the cesspool immediately) was a criminal violation because he was willfully allowing the discharge," Okubo said. "He did pump it out (yesterday)."
It is now believed that the contaminated water did reach the ocean, so the signs will remain for a few more days. However, Okubo said people at the sandbar and harbor were too far away to be affected.
"Normally, we do (issue) a notification" when it's verified that sewage has reached the water, he said.
Asked how the public would know whether the signs are official, since no agency is named, he said several different signs may be posted: "That's the problem."
In response to your complaint, he said, "It's our error, and we apologize for that."
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