City violated water law, judge rules
Penalties in the suit could reach hundreds of millions of dollars
A federal judge will decide on penalties against the city after a ruling Tuesday that partially sided with three environmental groups saying the city's waste-water system had repeatedly violated the federal Clean Water Act.
U.S. Judge David Ezra can impose penalties of up to hundreds of millions of dollars in the lawsuit filed in 2004 by the Sierra Club, Hawaii's Thousand Friends and Our Children's Earth Foundation.
Jeff Mikulina, director of Hawaii's Sierra Club, said he would rather see the city upgrade their facilities than being fined massive amounts only to have that deposited in a federal fund.
"We don't want to punish taxpayers for the mess that the administration has created," Mikulina said yesterday. "We would prefer that the money be spent on sewage projects or projects that would benefit the environment another way."
In the 32-page ruling Tuesday, Ezra said the city had violated the permit for the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant by releasing levels higher than the authorized limit of a bacteria called enterococcus 1,603 times from July 31, 2002, to March 31, 2007.
Ezra also ruled that the city released levels exceeding permitted limits of biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids 218 times and a pesticide called dieldrin three times.
The city also violated the permit 1,578 times by not building a Sand Island disinfection facility by the deadline of July 21, 2002. Instead, that facility was completed four years later in 2006.
Furthermore, the city also failed to upgrade the Hart Street Pump Station by its deadline of Feb. 18, 2005. The city will have an opportunity later to explain mitigating circumstances including construction delays before the judge issues a penalty.
"The administration has been working closely with federal and state officials to address long-standing challenges in satisfying the city's permit requirements," Environmental Services Director Eric Takamura said in an e-mail. "Sierra Club's pursuit of punitive measures against the city detracts from these important efforts and from a productive resolution of these problems."
The city is also awaiting a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency whether to renew a permit for the Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant to continue operating without a full secondary treatment. If the city is denied the permit, upgrading the sewer plant would cost about $1.2 billion.