City & County of Honolulu

EPA says city was aware
of sewage problem

By Diana Leone

The city has known since 1998 that it had a July 2002 deadline for upgrading its Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman says.

However, as recently as an Aug. 21 letter to the EPA, city Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger was arguing that the agency was being too hard on the city.

EPA inspections in April and July showed the plant was exceeding sewage effluent limits for enterococci bacteria and the termite-killing chemicals chlordane and dieldrin.

Yet Steinberger proposed in his letter to the EPA that it remove requirements that the Sand Island plant reduce the levels of chlordane and dieldrin in its effluent.

He also proposed that a schedule of construction projects to improve the plant's performance should be removed from the city's permit.

The agency refused Steinberger's proposals. In a Sept. 30 order, the EPA said the city has until Dec. 1 to show how it will resolve its violations or face fines of up to $27,500 a day per violation.

EPA has known the city is behind schedule in building a facility to disinfect Sand Island sewage, as it agreed to do in 1998, said Tom Huetteman, chief of Clean Water Act compliance for EPA Region 9, which includes Hawaii.

"In this kind of situation, it's very typical that an enforcement order is issued, as a mechanism for putting in place a new schedule," he said yesterday.

Enterococci are an indicator of potentially harmful bacteria that could cause gastroenteritis in people swimming in affected waters, said Janet Hashimoto, director of monitoring for EPA Region 9.

Huetteman said the likelihood of the "plume" of sewage plant effluent from Sand Island returning to beaches in Mamala Bay and containing sufficient bacteria to cause health problems is less than 1 percent.

"We don't want people to overreact to this order that there's a serious health concern for recreational users," he said.

Paul Achitoff, an attorney for EarthJustice who testified in 1998 against the city getting the waiver, said city officials have "been dragging their feet."

"I'm not aware of any extraordinary intervening circumstances that have made it impossible for them to comply with their obligations," he said.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said yesterday that the city's contractor for building an ultraviolet disinfection facility, Robinson Construction Inc., is behind but that she was not at liberty to say why.

City records show the city awarded a $76,681,165 contract to RCI in May 2001, with a projected completion date of Sept. 26, 2003.

Since then the city has approved 11 change orders that lower the total to $70,592,007 and revise the completion date to Oct. 14, 2003.

Environmental Protection Agency
City & County of Honolulu

E-mail to City Desk


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