Experts: Spill penalties to hit tens of millions of dollars

Experts: Spill penalties to hit tens of millions of dollars
Published: Sep. 22, 2013 at 10:06 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2013 at 9:57 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Environmental advocates say that the penalties from the molasses spill disaster will likely be in the tens of millions of dollars.

More than 26,000 fish have been killed from the accidental dumping of 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor by Matson Inc. The spill has also resulted in untold damage to the coral reef and other wildlife.

"This is one of the most significant environmental disasters in Hawaii," said Robert Harris, director of Sierra Club Hawaii.

"The only thing that's comparable is the recent oil spill in the gulf where you see that kind of scope of death and destruction."

On Friday, Matson admitted that the state had previously warned the company about molasses leaking from its pipeline. That warning came more than a year after the company accidentally dumped 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor.

"It certainly makes this a cleaner, more blatant case. I think the penalties and fines assessed based on this violation should be more severe," said Isaac Moriwake, attorney with Earthjustice.

"It's definitely just a blatant oversight, gross negligence on the part of the polluter."

Matson has agreed to pay for the clean up costs. But it declined comment today on potential penalties that may be assessed, saying the cause and the scope of the damage caused by the spill is still under investigation.

As a precedent, Harris cited the case of U.S. Port Royal grounding in 2009.

The Navy paid about $15 million in penalties and repair costs for the reef when the ship damaged thousands of square yards of centuries-old reef near Honolulu Airport's reef runway.

Harris says the damage from the spill is much greater.

"Tens of million of dollars are not out of the question," said Harris.

"In fact, I would go so far as to say (that amount) is appropriate so that these types of instances don't happen again."

Attorney Jay Fidell believes that Hawaii's environmental protection laws should be overhauled in light of the spill.

Companies seeking new state permits from the receive a lot of scrutiny from state officials but older operations like the molasses pipeline are not required to be inspected.

"What we have to do is set up a procedure where the government walks around and looks --makes and inquires" about the operations, he said.

"And the companies that handle large quantities of materials that could be harmful do self reporting."

State lawmakers plan to hold hearings on the spill.

Requiring regular inspections of pipelines will likely be on the agenda."@

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