Honolulu ordered to make $1 billion wastewater upgrades - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Honolulu ordered to make $1 billion wastewater upgrades

Charles Djou Charles Djou
Dean Higuchi Dean Higuchi

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - At a time when many Oahu families are already tightening their belts, taxpayers may possibly be forced to pay hundreds more each month for their sewer bills.

That's because the City lost a fight with the federal government over its wastewater plants.

The City and County of Honolulu must make costly upgrades to its wastewater treatment plants. After a ten-month-long investigation, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday, concluded the plants fail to meet federal water quality standards.

The verdict is in. A battle over the Sand Island and Honouliuli Wastewater Treatement plants results in a costly loss for Honolulu.

"Although we haven't run any bids and there's no exact estimate, it's been widely estimated at one billion dollars. And that's money the City doesn't have," said Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou.

That estimate is for the cost to upgrade the plants.

The EPA says both have discharge that fail to meet requirements under the federal Clean Water Act.

"99% of all municipalities in the U.S. are in full compliance with the Clean Water Act, including all of the neighbor islands. It is remarkably tragic that Honolulu is the only one who refuses to comply with the Clean Water Act," said Djou.

If the EPA orders the city to make the upgrades in the next year or two, city leaders say taxpayers may possibly have to drain $200 to $300 from their wallets, per month, per household.

"This is not something that's going to be solved in a month, this is a long term plan for improving the waste water on Oahu," said Dean Higuchi, an EPA spokesperson.

Higuchi says it has yet to sit down with the City and look at how the City came up with the billion dollar estimate for the upgrades. He says it is possible the price tag could be much lower than that.

The law typically requires municipal wastewater plants to treat the water twice. The first time is to remove large objects, like stones and rags. The second time is to take out organic waste.

Since 1990, Honolulu was exempt from performing the secondary treatment. That waiver expired last March, and the City fought to get it renewed, saying the EPA's testing methods are old, so its evaluation of the discharge is allegedly flawed.

In a written statement Mayor Mufi Hanneman said, "Every indication was that the EPA would decline to renew the waivers these plants have operated under for so long, so today's decision was not unexpected. However, we had hoped that the EPA would reconsider its tentative decision, in light of the overwhelming evidence presented by our local scientists and engineers that secondary treatment at these plants is not necessary or beneficial."

The Mayor's Environmental Panel of Advisors also issued a statement saying, "There is no evidence that the discharges are causing any of the problems or impairments to our marine water and/or aquatic life alleged by EPA."

But under the EPA's decision Tuesday, the request for a waiver renewal for the full secondary treatment requirement was rejected.

"This is clear simple federal law and I believe it's incumbent upon our City to take care of our natural environment and do things like comply with the federal Clean Water Act. And the better strategy the City should have done was try to come up with a master plan over 20 to 30 years to come into compliance," said Djou.

The city can sue the EPA and leave it up to a judge to decide. No word yet on if the Mayor will go that route.

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