Navy should have spoken up about spill


POSTED: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The delayed disclosure that 5,000 gallons of untreated sewage were dumped into state waters by a warship run aground added another point of concern for the Navy in addition to the damage to the USS Port Royal and the service's embarrassment about the incident.

The Navy released 12,700 gallons of treated but undisinfected wastewater from its sewage plant into a Pearl Harbor channel while the guided missile cruiser listed off the reef runway, but didn't report the release for several days.

Why the ship ran aground is puzzling. Homeported at Pearl, the ship had routinely navigated the area before, but this was its first sailing since being in drydock from September through January.

The grounding and the fact that removing the ship took four tries in more than three days was embarrassing. However, the Navy's failure to promptly report the untreated sewage dump to state authorities does little to burnish its image in the islands where it has been at odds with segments of the community over sonar training and its effects on marine mammals and other issues.

State health officials say the Navy did not mention the discharge at a briefing and did not acknowledge the incident until two days later. The dumping led to warnings to the public to stay out of the waters from Keehi Channel to the Pearl Harbor channel, a popular diving area for catching octopus.

The Navy said dumping the sewage was necessary because the ship can't hold more than a day's worth of wastewater. While the release appears justified, the Navy would have done better to come clean straight away.