Sewer fees going up to pay for upgrades

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu's sewer system will get a big upgrade but it will come at a cost.  You can expect sewer fees to steadily go up every year for what could be decades, not to mention the construction traffic you might sit in while the work is going on.

The sewer settlement details have been flushed out and you can get ready to sit in more construction traffic.  As part of the deal the city must repair or replace 144 miles of sewer and clean another 500 miles.  In all 40 projects all over Oahu that must be finished in the next six years.  Another 38 projects will need to be evaluated the following four years.  The city will also have to build four back up force mains and come up with spill contingency plans.

Then the city will then have to upgrade its two main sewer plants to treat the waste twice before it's sent off into the ocean.  The Honouliuli Treatment Plant must be upgraded by June 1, 2024 and the Sand Island Plant by December 31, 2035.

"That will give the city the time to plan that out and account for that and fit that into financial models," said Todd Apo, Honolulu City Council Chair.

The secondary treatment upgrades alone are estimated to cost $1.2 billion.  To pay for it all you can expect sewer fees to go up.

"My understanding of the plan is that we will probably start the rate increases soon," said Apo.  "Hopefully we're able to keep sewer fee increases below five percent, maybe in the two to four percent increase year over year."

"How are people going to pay all of this? And their electric fees are going to go up, so it's tough," said Ann Kobayashi, Honolulu City Councilmember.

It stems from lawsuits claiming the city was breaking the Clean Water Act.  As part of the settlement the city also has to pay $1.6 million in civil payments, half to the state and half to the federal government.  That's in addition to the $10 million already spent on legal fees fighting the claims, now gone down the drain.

Each of those sewer upgrade projects has a specific finish date.  The city could face penalties up to thousands of dollars a day if the construction falls behind.

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