City & County of Honolulu

EPA raises concern
over city sewage

A notice threatens the city
with fines for a delay in
building a disinfection facility

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A delay in the construction of an ultraviolet disinfection facility at the city's Sand Island Sewage Treatment Plant could result in fines and other penalties, under a notice issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

And while the Harris administration downplayed the issue, state Health Director Bruce Anderson and City Council Public Works Chairman Steve Holmes said the holdup raises serious concerns about how sewage is discharged at Sand Island.

The EPA's San Francisco office issued a release yesterday saying it has ordered the city to stop effluent-discharge violations at Sand Island.

"The City & County of Honolulu (is) behind in meeting permit obligations for the Sand Island facility," said Wayne Nastri, the EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "It is critical that Honolulu take accelerated steps to move into compliance."

The release said the city had unacceptable concentrations of the pesticides chlordane and dieldrin and that levels of enterococcus, a nondisease bacteria that could indicate the presence of disease-causing bacteria, was also above the limit.

The EPA ordered the city to submit a plan and compliance schedule by Dec. 1 or risk being subjected to action including penalties of up to $27,500 a day.

A press release issued by city Managing Director Ben Lee said the EPA's notice implies "people may also be pouring pesticides down the drain," and he urged the public to properly dispose of pesticides.

Anderson does not believe the situation at the Sand Island facility's outfall, about two miles offshore, poses imminent threat to public safety or the environment. But he is worried what the EPA's position could mean to taxpayers.

The city was required to have the $70 million ultraviolet disinfection facility completed by July 1 but now expects it to be done by December 2003.

The facility's completion is a condition in a waiver from the EPA that excludes it from a federal requirement that effluent at its sewage treatment plants receive a secondary level of disinfection. The waiver was the result of a settlement reached with environmental groups that sued the city in 1990 to try to upgrade the facility to secondary treatment.

"If they don't meet the conditions of the permit, it's very possible the EPA would pull the waiver, which would force the city to upgrade their treatment plant to a secondary plant," Anderson said. "That would cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars, so there's a lot at stake here."

City spokeswoman Carol Costa refused yesterday to provide details on why the facility is behind schedule. "It's a very complex project, and we have run into some delays," Costa said, noting that construction began more than a year ago. "We're proceeding as quickly as we can."

Holmes said the violations are disturbing because they were based not on the typical standard for treatment plants, but an even higher "not to exceed" threshold. "The fact that they are exceeding the higher standard is particularly troublesome," he said.

Environmental Protection Agency

City & County of Honolulu

E-mail to City Desk


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