City Council Members Address Sewage Sludge Controversy

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Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plan

BY MIRIAM LANDRU – The City & County of Honolulu’s Public Works and Sustainability committee met Wednesday to discuss the city’s plans to truck sewage sludge out of Sand Island Waste Water Treatment Plan because of capacity issues. The city wants to build a second digester there, but Council Member Romy Cachola headed up the effort to have the $26 million in funding removed from the budget.

The public was outraged over the council’s action and the city’s plan to truck raw sewage to treatment plants in Waianae and Kailua. Waianae already has capacity issues as a result of landfill flood and breach, and Kailua plant is next to a school, park and housing area. The city revised its plan to deliver waste for 30 days to Honouliuli. But some city council members are still getting angry calls from their constituents leading them to call for the budget to be re-opened.


“Responsible governments think locally and globally about issues they face. Sometimes that means taking a step back to evaluate whether the quick solution or the short term cheaper solution to the problem is a long term cost saving or efficient solution for taxpayers,” said Councilmember Stanley Chang, chair of the Public Works and Sustainability committee.

“The object here is no one wants to spend the $26 million or no one wanted the new technology. I’m not sure. I was in favor to spend the $26 million,” Councilman Tom Berg said. “That’s a priority for us in District 1 not to have this inundate Honouliuli to my knowledge. I can’t find anybody in my district who likes what they see right now.”

Berg proposed that the city could use some money in the budget to start the procurement process to build a second digester at Sand Island, but City Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger said, “Unfortunately the way that state procurement works you have to have the full amount of money before you can obligate the state to a contract. We’ve already lost a couple of protests because we’ve tried to split fund projects.”

The way the plan stands now: The city will haul one 5,000 -gallon truck of waste from Sand Island to the Honouliuli plant once a day for 30 days in mid-August.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kailua, has fought against plans to truck sewage to Kailua. She said there were health problems in 2006 at Aikahi Elementary School. In one month, 52 students got sick and 21 were sent home because of smells from the plant. The school’s principal told Hawaii Reporter smells improved after the city worked diligently to upgrade the plant, but she is concerned about what might happen if additional sewage is trucked there.

Resolution 11-182, introduced by Cachola, suggests that the council explore ideas other to treat sludge and several members of the community offered testimony regarding alternative.

“An awful lot of people have come in offering solutions,” said Steinberger.

Still, the trucking of sludge is on track to occur and environmental studies involving the impact are being conducted.