City & County of Honolulu

Council conditionally
OKs new sludge plant

The City Council unanimously approved a zoning permit yesterday for a $34 million sewage sludge-to-fertilizer plant on Sand Island -- provided there are tests of the product before a building permit is issued.

Synagro, the Houston-based company contracted to build and operate the plant, said it would submit fertilizer pellets from its Pinellas County, Fla., plant to Environmental Protection Agency-designed tests to ensure that the product does not contain disease-causing bacteria.

Robert Fujioka, of the University of Hawaii's Water Resources Research Center, will conduct the tests.

The agreement between Synagro and local community groups that questioned the safety of fertilizer produced from sewage sludge was reached yesterday before the Council meeting.

Most vocal in pushing for local testing were the Kalihi-Palama Community Council, Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board and Sand Island Business Association.

Councilman Mike Gabbard said he went door to door in Pinellas County to ask residents if they had any complaints about the Synagro plant, which is virtually the same as what is planned for Honolulu.

"From the data I gathered, Synagro seems to be doing a first-rate job," Gabbard said.

But Gabbard and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi chastised Synagro officials yesterday for not informing the community of the safety of its plant operations and fertilizer product.

The city administration signed a contract with Synagro in March 2002, but Kalihi-Palama residents did not know about the proposal until last August, Kobayashi said.

"A lot of this controversy could have been avoided if Synagro had done their homework," Gabbard said.

"We should have done a better job of reaching out to the community early on," said Alvin Thomas, Synagro executive vice president, said after the 9-0 vote. "We're doing the best we can to make up for that."

The Synagro plant will take about 14 months to build after other necessary permits are obtained. It is part of the city's $348 million upgrade to the 30-year-old Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is being required by an EPA consent decree.


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