City Battles Over Sewage Standards

Wayne Nastri
Wayne Nastri

By Walter Makaula

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Time is ticking away.  In less than three weeks, the city has to solve a problem that could be a big stink for tax payers.

The city of Honolulu is at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency over waste water treatment.

And solving the problem could cost us more than half a billion dollars.

The dispute is over whether the facility at Sand Island is adequately treating the waste, before it's released into the ocean.

At a hearing Wednesday night, the Environmental Protection Agency says, no.

The mayor says the waste isn't harming the ocean and if he does what the EPA wants, it will cost tax payers 800 million dollars.

It's a hefty sum, residents don't want to see go down the drain, so the city is seeking an extension of a waiver to operate the facility the way it has for years.

"All I know at this point is what we're discharging into the ocean is not causing a negative impact on our marine life, on our water, on our oceans and to me that's bottom line," said Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

But the EPA isn't budging.

It's stance? Simple.

The Sand Island Treatment Facility isn't in compliance with the law.

"The law that we're looking at is the clean water act. The clean water act is very specific," said Wayne Nastri of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Right now, the EPA says, there are four specific areas the facility fails to meet.

It says the discharges are proven toxic to ocean life, they contain the presence of ammonia, and the pesticides dieldrin and chlordane.

Both are extremely hazardous compounds to ecosystems and human health.

The EPA says if these issues are not addressed, the variance waiver will not be renewed.

But the engineer who compiles the data and drafts the reports sent to the EPA says the testing methods the agency uses are flawed and out dated.

"The test that we are required to use shows a false positive or are inaccurate," said Don Piegrass of the city's department of environmental services. "More modern tests indicates that Dielgrin is not present in the wastewater."

And he says the same's true for chlordane and ammonia.

Both sides agree changes need to be made and are confident a resolution will be reached.

Right now there are 26 publicly owned treatment plants in Hawaii.

Only two do not the legal requirements. The one at Sand Island and another at Honouliuli in Ewa.