Hearing weighs waste-water proposal
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing tomorrow on a proposal to require secondary treatment upgrades at Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant that could cost the city $800 million.
The EPA also issued a similar proposal for the Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant, which, coupled with the Sand Island facility, could force the city to pay a total of $1.2 billion. City officials say the upgrades are unnecessary.
"Should the EPA force us to pay for secondary treatment, while also making repairs to our sewage collection system, I shudder to think of the financial burden we'll have to shoulder for decades and decades to come," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said last month in his State of the City speech.
The public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School, 1663 S. King St.
Last December the EPA announced a tentative decision to deny the city an exemption for Sand Island that allows it to operate with just primary treatment.
Primary treatments filters out large objects and grit, such as rags and small stones. Secondary treatment takes an extra step by removing organic matter by exposing the waste water to bacteria.
The EPA and critics of secondary treatment agree that Honolulu is unique compared with other cities since the waste water is dumped far from land and into deep waters -- about 9,000 feet offshore and 230 feet below the surface.
The city and secondary treatment critics say the waste water is dumped far enough away that it does not harm sea life or Oahu's beaches because currents typically drift away from the island.
But the EPA argues that the discharge from the plant exceeds state Department of Health standards for toxic and ammonia levels, which could harm wildlife. The EPA has also said all the other waste-water treatment plants in Hawaii have been upgraded to secondary treatment.
"It's time we stop treating our ocean like a dumping ground," said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club.
While Mikulina said he supports the EPA's tentative decision, he believes there are more pressing matters, such as Hannemann's push to upgrade Honolulu's aging sewer system. Hannemann is proposing $245.3 million in sewer repairs in the upcoming fiscal year 2009 budget.
"That's where our dollars should go first," Mikulina said. "We're asking the EPA and the city to incorporate it into a time line that recognizes those priorities."
Victor Moreland, a consultant who also works in the Water Resources Research Center for the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said upgrading to secondary treatment could have a negative effect on the environment.
Moreland estimates that the energy needed to operate the secondary treatment plant would more than double what it uses now and would emit more greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.
He also added that there is not much use for the material collected from the secondary treatment -- "biosolids" that might be used elsewhere as fertilizer -- and so it would ultimately go to the island's only landfill.
"We already have landfill issues," said Moreland, also a member of the Hawaii Water Environment Association, a nonprofit organization of water quality experts. "There's an equilibrium that exists between land, air and water. As a consequence, you do something with one, you automatically have an impact on the other two."
Honouliuli and Sand Island are the state's two largest waste-water treatment plants. The EPA received 122 public comments on the Honouliuli plant, according to EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi.
Higuchi said there could be final decisions made on both plants as early as this year. While the plants are in similar situations, the final decision will be made independently, he said.
"One conclusion doesn't necessarily lead to another conclusion," Higuchi said.
Voice your opinion 3 different ways
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is accepting public comment until March 31 on its decision that would force the city to upgrade the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant with secondary treatment.
To submit testimony:
» Appear in person at a 6:30 p.m. hearing tomorrow at Washington Middle School Cafeteria at 1663 S. King St. in Honolulu.
» Send e-mail to R9-301h-Comments@epa.gov, with attention to Sara Roser.
» Send mail to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region IX, WTR-5, 75 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, CA 94105, attention: Sara Roser.
For more information call Roser at (415) 972-3513 or visit www.epa.gov/region09/water/npdes/pubnotices.html.