Maui County urged to settle closely-watched environmental case

Updated: Aug. 24, 2019 at 1:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In one of the most closely-watched environmental cases in the country, Maui County is preparing to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court this November that its wastewater wells in Lahaina are not harming the coastline.

But the county is under pressure to settle the case before it reaches the high court.

The plaintiffs, meanwhile, argue it’s a major test of the National Clean Water Act.

“Right now, the way this case is positioned is that it has the potential to really negatively impact waters all across the United States,” said EarthJustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland.

The case involves treated wastewater injected into West Maui wells that eventually reaches the ocean.

The plaintiffs argue it is damaging the reefs and polluting the water. They won their case in the federal appeals court.

However, the county says the wells are a practical, safe way to get rid of wastewater and its research showed no proof of negative impacts. They want the Supreme Court to let them keep doing it.

In a statement, the county spokesman said: “Maui County is appealing a nationwide attempt to expand the scope of regulations of the federal Clean Water Act, which Congress intended as an end-of-pipe regulation appropriate for ocean sewage outfalls and other direct discharges into bodies of water.”

The statement continues, “Staying the course with the U.S. Supreme Court protects our county, our taxpayers and allows the County to continue to manage its recycled water disposal in the most environmentally responsible way available and feasible.”

Critics say the county’s appeal is embarrassing for Maui.

“They don’t want to see Maui as being the sort of the tip of the spear to gut the Clean Water Act,” Cleveland said.

Next month, the Maui County Committee on Governance, Ethics, and Transparency a council committee will vote on a resolution to settle the case to keep it from reaching the Supreme Court.

The chair of that committee says council members are split and he hasn’t made his decision yet.

“Call it a game time decision if you will,” said Councilman Mike Molina.

“It won’t be an easy one. I’m sure for the rest of my colleagues as well. So, we look forward to a spirited meeting with testimony and I’m sure a lively discussion amongst the members."

The committee meeting is on Sept. 3.

To submit testimony, email

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