State finds major environmental polluting case on Sand Island

Published: May. 16, 2011 at 9:15 PM HST|Updated: May. 17, 2011 at 8:57 PM HST
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Driveline Components, Inc. is not a recognized company.
Driveline Components, Inc. is not a recognized company.
Grace Simmons with the State Department of Health
Grace Simmons with the State Department of Health
Carroll Cox with EnviroWatch
Carroll Cox with EnviroWatch

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.  That's the state motto but there are some that certainly don't abide by it.

According to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Driveline Components, Inc. is not a recognized company.  It was involuntarily dissolved in 1998.  Yet for more than a decade it's been operating on state land in Sand Island and polluting the environment, according to inspectors with the Department of Health.

The pictures aren't pretty.  Among the things we found at the Driveline Components shop at 1006 Mikole Street were huge containers leaking chemicals and four drums full of white sludge one of which was opened and oozing out.

There was also spilled oil on the ground inside the facility.  And out on the street a film of oil runs off into the environment as it rains.  It's all just a few feet away from a storm drain which is right next to the ocean.

"Just that basic coat of oil, that little sheen will be sufficient enough to addle an egg, which would kill it," said Carroll Cox, environmentalist with EnviroWatch.

"You do have environmental degradation and there are releases not only into the soil, but into the storm drains leading out into the water ways.  It is a pretty nasty situation," said Grace Simmons, Department of Health Hazardous Waste Supervisor.

The state says a man named Bill Mahas is responsible.  He's been fined tens of thousands of dollars, has a $200,000 tax lien under his name and has contaminated five properties on Oahu and one on Kauai.

"We've done notices of violations against Mr. Mahas and we haven't had much luck," said Simmons. "There was a notice of violation also issued to Driveline Components, Mr. Mahas' company, but we have not been able to collect on it."

A lawsuit lasted years.  Mahas wasn't evicted until the Department of Health fined the Department of Land and Natural Resources $85,000.  DLNR is the landowner, but leases the property to the Sand Island Business Association.  SIBA then sub-leased the land to Michael Chock who sub-leased again to Mahas.

It turns out Mahas then moved from one state property to another, to a facility in Kalaeloa owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.  They've already evicted him for making a mess of the facility.  Mahas is supposed to have everything cleared out of the Kalaeloa lot by the end of the month.

Now Mahas has moved to a lot in Campbell Industrial Park.  He wasn't there at the time we visited, but an associate was.

"There is going to be some spillage it happens, that's a part of life," said the unidentified associate.

He says he didn't work at the Sand Island facility, where we found all the oil tanks and rubbish, but he was part of the cleanup crew.

"I was there the last couple days and we moved everything we could out of there. I don't remember leaving any oil behind at all," said Mahas' associate.

He apparently didn't see the huge containers out in the open marked "oil" or the ones marked "hydraulic oil" and "used oil" containers or the big container that was spray painted "Metal for Bill."

"I'll admit that's a little crazy calling it spick and span," said the associate.

It certainly isn't spick and span. Cleanup crews paid for by the Sand Island Business Association have come in and started scraping the pavement, and the oil is caked on about a half an inch thick.

Photos from when Driveline Components was in business there show cars parked illegally on the street and stacked up on top of each other.  There were also batteries and tanks on the sidewalks and fluids running into the gutter and down the drain.

"Is this an environmental disaster?  I'd say it is and could have been avoided if we could just give the state some teeth to bite," said Cox.

What is biting are the mosquitoes being bred in all the buckets and bins scattered throughout the property.  Clients and employees also have cause for concern.  Also left behind were invoices with customer information and we found countless employment documents complete with full name and social security numbers all ripe for the picking by an identity thief.

"It is a problem when you have personal information left out in the open and easily picked up by anyone," said Simmons.

As for the cleanup early estimates are $50,000 to $100,000.  Mahas will be billed but considering he hasn't paid his prior fines there's little hope he'll pay up now.

So what's the solution?

"I don't know," said Simmons.

With budget cuts the Department of Health Hazardous Waste Division is scraping by with just two inspectors for the entire state.

"It's very frustrating," admits Simmons.  "What I would like to see or what we should see is when landowners lease their property they should do a check on their tenants and know what kind of business they're doing and do a full screening on them because it turns out that they might be leasing their property to someone who has done similar environmental problems at another location. The property managers should be out there looking at these properties on a day to day basis.  We found that many of the managers didn't realize that some of their properties were being sublet to other businesses and that company was doing environmental harm."

The public is also asked to be the eyes for the state and call in complaints at 808-586-5226 when they see paradise being trashed.

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