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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
Attorney • (808) 845-2211

Mayor Hannemann Puts People and Health First With Plans For Sewage System

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Laurie Au of the Honolulu Star Bulletin reported on January 19, 2009 that Mayor Mufi Hannemann has responded to a recent federal ruling forcing the city to upgrade two major waste-water treatment plants by asking the state Department of Health to update its water quality standards.

Hannemann criticized the Department of Health for its delay in updating its water quality laws in light of a recent final decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at an informational briefing of the state House and Senate committees.

Hannemann asked the state to correct the standards for almost a year and as a result of the delay, he says, the city may have to raise sewer fees to pay for upgrades to the Honouliuli and Sand Island waste-water treatment plants.

"Here we are, one year later, faced with the potentially tremendous financial impact of a mandate to upgrade our two largest treatment plants to secondary, when all of this might have been averted had the DOH fulfilled its legal obligation to timely review their water quality standards and correct what they have acknowledged is a typographical error," Hannemann said.

The city will appeal a decision by the EPA that ruled discharge into the ocean exceeded bacteria and toxic levels set by the state and could harm the public. It would be refreshing if government would respond before being caught polluting the Hawaii ecosystem rather than only take action to protect the public after being caught. Think about who in those government offices failed to take action on this health issue long ago. Changes must be made in these agencies to protect the public. Mayor Hannemann did his part and the delays are inexcusable.

According to federal law, states are encouraged to review their water quality standards every three years and change them if necessary. The last time Hawaii changed some of its standards was in 2004, according to Lawrence Lau, state deputy director for environmental health.

But it is unclear and unlikely whether the changes in the state standards would have ultimately affected the EPA’s decision, said EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi.

"We evaluated it both ways," Higuchi said. "It still didn’t really alter our final decision. It’s really the city’s choice to use what they want for their appeal."

Lau acknowledged that there was at least one typographical error in the state’s water quality standard: a misplaced decimal point in a figure denoting safe levels of pesticide in fish. Now isn’t that great! They move a decimal point and hide the health risk. I smell a rat …… or maybe a rotten fish. What do you think? Aren’t you tired of these stories? If it is the politicians fault then vote them out of office. And if the agency employees are engaged in a cover up I hope we have some who are courageous enough to become whistle blowers!

However, in the EPA’s report for Honouliuli, it found that the pesticide levels exceeded the state’s standard even with the intended amount.

"Even with the typographical corrections, even with the updated standards, there would still be some exceedances, maybe not as many as before," Lau said. "I do agree we should update the standards, and we’re working on that."

I am not sure if "exceedances is a word but you get the idea. Lau said the department had some personnel changes in 2005 that impeded its ability to update the water standards. Is that weak or what? This is about public health, cancer, disease!

The EPA ruled that the city needs to upgrade these treatment plants to include an additional level of filtering, called "secondary treatment." The city estimates construction for the upgrades costs about $1.2 billion.