State to dispute fine for massive Halawa sewage spill that lasted 2 months

State to dispute fine for massive Halawa sewage spill that lasted 2 months
Published: Mar. 22, 2017 at 4:34 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 22, 2017 at 10:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Agriculture Department has been fined $465,000 for discharging hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Halawa Stream for more than two months last year.

The discharge happened June 13, after a power outage at the department's Animal Quarantine Station's wastewater treatment facility in Halawa Valley caused a pump system to stop working and sent animal and human wastewater into the stream.

The problem wasn't fixed until Aug. 15.

In addition to the fine, issued by the state Health Department, the Department of Agriculture has been ordered to install an emergency power source and warning system to prevent future spills.

Health officials say they don't have an accurate estimate of how much sewage was discharged. But a violation notice delivered to the state Agriculture Department said more than 10,000 gallons of sewage per day for 62 days went into the stream.

"The Department of Agriculture has been sustaining its operations at Halawa with a wastewater system that is in dire need of modernization," said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of the state Environmental Health Administration, in a news release. "An emergency standby power source and a warning system, among other corrections, must be in place to prevent future spills and protect the environment."

The state was alerted to the spill after someone called the city to say the water looked contaminated.

Hawaii Agriculture Department chairman Scott Enright said no one on site at the Animal Quarantine Station was responsible for overseeing the sewage plant.

"They're older facilities. So this is older equipment built for a different time," he said. "It's placed in such a location that our staff there doesn't check it on a regular basis."

He said temporary repairs were made as soon as officials learned about the problem, and the department is disputing the hefty fine.

"We have a difference of opinion in how events transpired so we will continue those discussions," said Enright.

Meanwhile, Chris Lee, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, said he wants to see more accountability on the issue.

"Anytime there is an issue and we saw this with the molasses spill down at Honolulu Harbor where pipers were noticeably deteriorated but nothing was done there is a liability. And it's on all of us when we see a problem to report it whether it's our job description or not," Lee said.

Enright said he hopes to have the upgrades complete by late summer or early fall.  There's no word on how much the repairs will cost.

The Agriculture Department has 20 days to contest the fine.

The notice comes on the heels of another big fine for sewage discharge. Last week, the state Health Department fined the city $100,000 for mistakes that triggered three sewage spills in August 2015.  One of the spills -- near Ala Moana Beach Park -- sent 500,000 gallons of raw sewage into the streets.

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