Honolulu’s Sewer Construction Projects Cost Five Times the City’s Estimates

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City workers posted signs closing Waikiki and Ala Moana Beaches to swimmers after the city dumped more than 50 million gallons of raw sewage into into the Ala Wai Canal in the Spring of 2006.

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Three major sewage construction projects the City & County of Honolulu administration planned to complete for $88 million, actually cost the taxpayers $473 million.

That is five times the cost of the city’s initial estimates.


Why were the estimates so far off? Why were the projects so costly? What fund is the administration using to cover the difference?

Taxpayers want to know, but so far, Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration won’t give the answers.

Hawaii Reporter’s questions posed to the administration last week are so far being ignored.

But even more remarkably, the city administration won’t tell City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi the answers either – and she’s in charge of overseeing the city budget.

“I have been asking about the cost over runs, the change orders and other financial details for these projects for years, and because it is difficult to get answers, it adds to the ‘smell’ of these sewer projects,” Kobayashi said.

To be fair, some of these projects began under the administration prior to Carlisle – he’s been mayor since 2010.

Before him, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former city managing director Kirk Caldwell were in charge for six years. The Hannemann/Caldwell administration finalized the city’s federal consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency – a deal that will cost taxpayers $1.6 million in civil penalties and another $1.2 billion in upgrades to the sewer system and plants during the next 25 years. Caldwell is now a candidate for Honolulu mayor and is running on a promise to fix the city’s infrastructure.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, also a candidate for Honolulu mayor, made the cost overruns an issue in a recent public forum. He also is running on a platform of fixing Oahu’s aging infrastructure. Cayetano wants to focus on rehabilitating the dilapidated water and systems and the roads, which will cost the city about $12 billion to $15 billion.

Unlike Caldwell, a rail supporter, Cayetano said he will cancel the city’s controversial rail project because the $5 billion to $7 billion that it will cost to build the rail is money needed for infrastructure repairs and the city’s relatively small population of under a million people cannot afford both, he said.

Cayetano also notes that if the estimates for these three sewer projects are so far off, the estimate the city is now using for the rail, a much costlier project, may be way underestimated as well.

Here are the specifics:

1. Waikiki Beach Walk Force Main Addition

The Waikiki Beach Walk Force Main addition was initiated after a city pipe burst in 2006 in Waikiki, sending sewage into the hub of the tourism district. The break caused a chain reaction that led the city to directing 50 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai canal. The raw sewage floated into the ocean fronting Waikiki and Ala Moana beaches.

City officials, who in the midst of a heavy rainstorm, repaired the break in the pipe for around $3 million, wanted a back up plan to prevent such an environmental and economic disaster from happening again.

In 2006, the city planned a 6,600-foot Waikiki Beach Temporary Force Main addition, which Department of Design & Construction officials believed would cost $8 million and be completed in 6 months. But in fact, the project would cost $48 million and take 3 years to complete.

2. Sand Island Treatment Plan Disinfection System

The city’s second project was driven by oversight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA told city officials to get its wastewater system operation NPDES permit approved at the Sand Island treatment plant, the city must install a final disinfection system, such as ozone, Chlorination or UV. The city selected UV, despite the system adding another $400,000 a month in electricity costs.

The disinfection system, which was estimated at $20 million, was in fact completed for $178 million.

3.  Sand Island Treatment Plant Primary Process

In a third project, the city expanded the Sand Island Treatment Plant Primary Process.

The construction was estimated at $60 million, but actually cost city taxpayers $247 million.

Despite spending $473 million, Oahu’s city taxpayers are not done footing sewage related bills.

Because the city repeatedly violated federal law for several years, the EPA imposed a 2010 Federal Consent Decree and ordered the city to upgrade its facilities at the Sand Island and Honouliuli Waste Water plants. The city must spend $3.5 billion for a collection system and $1.2 billion for a secondary treatment system.






  1. How can any reasonable person look at this project and convince themselves that 5.12 billion is really what rail is going to costing the taxpayer?

  2. This is 1 of the reasons I left Honolulu. The city officials and state officials have brains the size of opihi's & manini fish. Oh… yah, also they think like Liberals and BS and Lie to everyone! I tried to buy 300 acres, 600 acres and 1200 acres on Oahu and got NO support (zero) when it came to building and closing the deal. The City wanted to take the land for their own use! In FEDERAL COURT, that's known as COLLUSION!!!, A FEDERAL CRIME!!!! Govt. employees on Oahu are more corrupt than Chicago and New Orleans combined….. Aloha state….. a big big nasty lie….

  3. What hasn't been discussed is, for Oahu residents, after adding up the costs for rebuilding the C&C of Honolulu's infrastructure, the costs yet to be imposed by the State on their improvements on Oahu's residents! Just look at the condition of the State's highways, bridges (think Karsten Thot), and even Civil Defense upgrades. Driving on the Pali Highway is like driving in a Third Word Country.
    Pedistrian safety measures on State highways are pitiful. How about installing median barriers on highways, how many cross-over vehicles will there be before a fatality occurs. Just plain highway safety is woefully lacking. How much longer will it take to complete safety improvements on H1 from Queen's hospital out to Pearl City? The section from Queen's hospital to Kahala Mall was completed 8-10 years ago. Or is the safety of drivers other than East Oahu residents not a concern for the State DOT?

  4. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something's fishy with this sewer project. That difference between estimate and actual cost is just too huge to ignore.

  5. City officials, who in the midst of a heavy rainstorm, repaired the break in the pipe for around $3 million, wanted a back up plan to prevent such an environmental and economic disaster from happening again.

  6. Costs that are 5 times bigger than what they estimated could destroy a city leaving it in debt. Mistakes happen, of course, but an error this big should not be ignored

  7. He also is running on a platform of fixing Oahu's aging infrastructure. Cayetano wants to focus on rehabilitating the dilapidated water and systems and the roads, which will cost the city about $12 billion to $15 billion buypreconstructionmiami.com

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