Sewer hook-up moratorium threatens major projects, home construction

Published: Apr. 27, 2012 at 12:04 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 27, 2012 at 12:14 AM HST
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Tim Steinberger
Tim Steinberger
Breene Harimoto
Breene Harimoto

PEARL CITY, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The City and County of Honolulu Department of Environmental Services has issued a moratorium on new sewer connections from Halawa to Pearl City.  No new home, high rise, or business can hook-up to the city sewer system until the system is upgraded, and that is not expected to happen until 2018.

Two major developments have already been denied requests to connect to the sewer system and there is fear construction of everything from small single family homes to large commercial projects will be stalled by the moratorium.

Tim Steinberger, Director of the Department of Environmental Services, explained the

Pearl City Wastewater Pump station is at capacity.  That station shares transmission pipes with the Waipahu pump station.  Steinberger said if new customers anywhere from Red Hill to the West end of Pearl City are allowed to connect to the system; it will be over capacity and at greater risk of sewage spills.

"Every time you do something and you knowingly increase your risk of a spill, and this would be one of those situations, then you are putting the county at risk for more federal action and more fines," Steinberger said.

The solution, Steinberger told Hawaii News Now, is to install a new force main (large transmission pipe) from the Waipahu pump station, across military property at West Loch, then under the loch to Geiger Road.

"It's expensive.  It's probably going to end up costing in the neighborhood of $60 million," Steinberger said.  And he said the work is not expected to be finished until 2018 at the earliest.

When asked "How big of a snafu is this?" City Councilman Breene Harimoto answered, "Probably as big as it can get."

Harimoto knows of two developers who have already been denied sewer connections.

Robertson Properties Group is planning to build a commercial / residential development on nearly 14 acres at the site of the old Kam Drive-In.  The multi-million dollar project would include 200,000 square feet of retail space and as many as 1,800 condominium units.  It is expected to create as many as 1,000 permanent jobs.  The project is still undergoing an environmental review and is years from opening, but it has been denied a sewer connection and cannot be finished until it is allowed to hook-up to the city sewer system.

"I think with the critical state of our economy we need these projects to proceed, and I will continue to work with environmental services to find a way around it," Harimoto said.

A developer planning to construct an assisted living facility for seniors in Pearl City has also been denied a wastewater hook-up.

Sewer connection application permits may be approved for people who plan to build new homes at the site of existing homes.  And home owners may add an extra bathroom to an existing home.  But they will not be able to get a sewer connection permit for a new home where no home currently exists.

Harimoto said the moratorium is sure to impact countless homeowners and developers seeking sewer connections.

"We're talking not six months; not one year, but at least six years or more.  So I'm sure there will be many others caught up in this and it's just a shame that we are in this situation," Harimoto added.

When asked if there is anything that can be worked out to allow projects to proceed before 2018 Steinberger said, "Right now we can just tell them that, you know, you have to wait.  I mean, that's pretty much it."

So how did this happen?  How did the wastewater system fall behind projected growth?

The city was banking on a private development called by Waiawa by Gentry to pay for and perform sewer upgrades.  Waiawa by Gentry had been on the drawing board for decades.  It was a residential project that would have built 12,000 new homes, but the project died in 2009 leaving the city with a sewer system that is literally bursting at the seams and in need of expensive repairs and costly additions.

Click on the picture of the document to the right of this story to read the city memorandum explaining the situation.