Sewer moratorium impacts planned senior facility

Published: Apr. 28, 2012 at 12:20 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 28, 2012 at 12:30 AM HST
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MW Group plans to construct its fourth senior living facility on Oahu under The Plaza brand and open in early 2014, but a city issued moratorium on new sewer connections from Halawa to Pearl City threatens the project. MW Group's request for a permit allowing it to hook-up to the sewer system was rejected and upgrades that would allow the permit to be granted will not be finished until 2018.

"We got to work through this," said Steve Metter, CEO of MW Group.

The city Department of Environmental Services issued a memorandum on April 20 outlining the sewer connection moratorium, who it effects, and the planned solution.

Tim Steinberger, Environmental Services Director, told Hawaii News Now transmission lines at the Pearl City Wastewater Pump Station have reached capacity and allowing new sewer connections would increase the risk of sewage spills. Steinberger said the moratorium will remain in effect until 2018 when improvements to the system, expected to cost $60 million, are complete.

(Click this link for more details of the moratorium

Metter said it is important the sewer problem is addressed as soon as possible. If it is not, construction workers will lose jobs, senior center workers will not be hired, and Hawaii's aging community will miss the opportunity to live at The Plaza Pearl City.

"Let's get together. Let's understand the issues. The city has good engineers. We have good consultants and we're going to get through it. You have to have that attitude as a developer," Metter said.

MW Group is currently building its third senior living facility near the top of Red Hill in Moanalua. By the time it is finished, roughly 350 construction workers will have worked on the project. Construction of The Plaza at Pearl City would employ a similar number of workers.

And, once complete, The Plaza Pearl City would employ close to 100 people full time. "Sustainable employment," Metter said. "The city is aware of that, so I got to believe that we'll all come together on it," he added.

Perhaps most important to Metter and his business partners is that they provide what they describe as an affordable rental where seniors can live and age gracefully.

"People as they age, they shouldn't have to age in hospitals. They should have a graceful residential opportunity where their family is more comfortable visiting, where they're more comfortable, and they shouldn't have to pay an arm and a leg to get in. And that's why we came in with the rental concept," Metter said.

MW Group began work on the Pearl City facility in May, 2011. In January 2012 the city informed the developers their sewer application permit was being rejected.

Since then the firm has been exploring options that may allow it to proceed with construction.

"What we've been discussing is putting a large retaining pool underground to catch all the effluent during the day, and release it between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. when the sewer lines clearly aren't at capacity," Metter told Hawaii News Now. While that kind of creative engineering may be acceptable to the city, it would add tremendous cost to the development and MW Group would prefer the city resolve the situation without MW Group incurring additional cost.

"It's a huge problem and the city has to address it. They can't just address it for us. We understand that. They have to address it on a wholesale level," Metter said.

A multi-million development to build a retail complex and 1,800 condominium units at the site of the former Kam Drive In has also had its sewer permit application denied.

Steinberger said anyone planning to build a new single family home from Halawa to Pearl City will have their application rejected, unless that home is replacing an existing home that already has a sewer connection.

"It's very frustrating. Clearly frustrating," Metter concluded.