State of the City 2010: Oahu Infrastructure is Failing

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Hawaii is facing one of its worst droughts in recent years and residents on all islands are being ordered by their county Board of Water Supply to conserve water.

On Oahu, the City’s Board of Water Supply spends an estimated $113,000 annually, primarily in the summer months, on web, television, print and radio advertisements to get the conservation message across. The Board of Water Supply runs a poster contest, holds educational workshops and partners with the military to ensure water is conserved, especially during the summer months.


But critics say there is some irony in the Board of Water Supply’s message. The island of Oahu, where an estimated 905,000 people or the vast majority of Hawaii’s population live, had 364 water main breaks per year between 2005 and 2009 – or an average of one break per day.

Board of Water Supply spokesperson Moani Wright-Van Alst says the city agency is unsure how many gallons of water are lost to water main breaks a year, or how that compares with overall usage because that depends “on the size of the break, the size of the pipe (4″ versus a transmission main that is 24 inches or 30 inches), the duration of the break, and the pressure of the system.”

The repair process is not easy or quick: “Before excavation can begin, the BWS must contact other utilities to mark their lines so that the BWS doesn’t inadvertently strike other utilities lines in the excavation process.  Crews also need to clear the debris in the working area.  Once crews excavate and locate the underground break, the repair method and time varies according to the size of the pipe as well as the type and severity of the break.  Once the main is repaired, crews need to flush the lines, reconnect the main to the water system, backfill the trench and repave the road.”

Panos Prevedouros, an engineer and candidate for Honolulu mayor in this Saturday’s election, says the city must put a stop to these breaks and adds that Oahu’s water main break problem is just one of many infrastructure systems that are in dire need of repair. He and other critics of the city management note:

*Oahu’s roads were again rated the worst in the nation by Reason Public Policy Institute – see the full 19th Annual Highway Report at

*Related to road management, Prevedouros says severe traffic congestion on Oahu’s roads wastes time and fuel and cripples the economy and tourism.

Councilmember Ann Kobayashi says that a sealant that would help Honolulu’s roads has been found, but the City won’t start using it for another 2 years.

*Oahu’s sewage system, which burst in 2006 sending more than 50 million gallons of sewage into the streets, Ala Wai canal and waters fronting Waikiki and Ala Moana, still has regular breaks. The Sierra Club, which sued the city over its lack of maintenance, says in a recent oped: “After ignoring warnings that the Beach Walk sewer main was in “extremely critical” condition, then Mayor Mufi Hannemann oversaw the worst water pollution episode in Honolulu’s history: 50 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai and Waikiki waters, shutting down Waikiki beaches and earning international embarrassment. Despite the debacle, Hannemann continued to fight the Environmental Protection Agency and community groups in court, paying a mainland attorney millions until being forced to settle the lawsuit and upgrade facilities to 21st-Century standards.

*Along those lines, Channel 2 News reports two days ago that the city’s attitude on sewage related issues has not improved: For the second time in three weeks the state has fined the city $140,000 for “willfully violating” state law at one of its wastewater treatment facilities. That’s more than a quarter million dollars in fines in less than a month.” See the full report here:

*The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the city to upgrade and repair Oahu’s sewage system – and that will cost ratepayers more than $7 billion.

Kobayashi is concerned about the City’s management of sewers. She says there is a building  moratorium in Moiliili because the sewage system is at capacity. “No one is doing anything about it.”

She is also says she is outraged that the City fought the Environmental Protection Agency, spending $10 million on legal fees for mainland law firms.

*The city’s landfill in Maili is another infrastructure issue that the city has botched, according to the Sierra Club. The organization criticizes the current administration for its management: Hannemann fought islandwide curbside recycling for our island–he was forced to implement the program by law enacted by voters in 2006. Hannemann cancelled the curbside recycling program when he started his term and then proceeded to oppose efforts to create a program at the City Council, the State Legislature, and in City Charter. He reversed his promise to close Waimanalo Gulch landfill (which was penalized millions of dollars for violations), and botched the plan to ship opala off-island.

The city taxpayers need to invest $5.5 billion into repairs and maintenance for roads, watermain repairs and other infrastructure improvements and that is in addition to the $7 million for sewage repairs, Prevedouros says.

Mufi Hannemann, who resigned from his second term as Honolulu mayor this July two years before his term concludes to run for governor, is criticized by his Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie for leaving the mayor’s office before he fixed the city’s infrastructure including the sewers.

Kirk Caldwell, who also is running for mayor this Saturday, is Hannemann’s acting mayor. He says that Oahu taxpayers can afford over the next three decades to complete all of these sewage and infrastructure repairs and build a 20-mile, $5.5 billion rail system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

But Prevedouros, and others opposed to the second most costly rail project per lane mile in the nation, estimate the rail will cost every family an estimated $11,000.

Prevedouros, who has focused almost exclusively on fixing Oahu and the city’s financial health during his mayoral campaign, says the taxpayers’ money is better spent on roads, the bus and infrastructure improvements. He advocates other less costly ways to improve traffic including fixing traffic lights, installing six underpasses, PPP reversible expressway and express buses, an Ewa Beach ferry; and intelligent traffic management systems.

Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, at





  1. […] State of the City 2010: Oahu Infrastructure is FailingHawaii ReporterOn Oahu, the City's Board of Water Supply spends an estimated $113000 annually, primarily in the summer months, on web, television, print and radio … […]

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