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New EA planned for sewer project

The county is set to prepare another environmental assessment and work closely with the community before constructing a wastewater system to replace gang cesspools in Naalehu and Pahala, Environmental Management Director Ramzi Mansour said Wednesday.

The department knew it was going to be hit with a fine from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it withdrew its 2020 study and went back to the drawing board, Mansour told the county Environmental Management Commission. The EPA earlier this month announced a fine of $28,500 because the county missed a deadline to submit a complete design.

“Currently we are negotiating with EPA Clean Water Act on moving forward a new EA,” Mansour said. “We’re going to be sending a notification to all people involved in the community to give them a heads up on what it will be. … Hopefully, we’ll get a better design, a better system.”

The 2020 plan that was withdrawn featured large lagoons, would have cost $130 million for Pahala alone and would have required about $400,000 per home to connect.

The new environmental assessment will be the county’s third. Plans for a less expensive wastewater treatment plant in Naalehu that the community favored and a 2007 EA found had no significant impact were scrapped in favor of the lagoon system plant.

Two Naalehu residents, Sandra Demoruelle and Jerry Warren, previously asked the county to follow the original plan. Demoruelle sued the county, unsuccessfully, while Warren was penalized for not paying his sewer bills in protest.

Warren told the Environmental Management Commission that six enforcement officers from the EPA visited the area Nov. 22, interviewing residents.

As far as the current system, “they don’t need to be replaced, they just need to be improved,” Warren said.

The county’s agreement with the EPA calls for approximately 272 properties served by the gang cesspools in Pahala and Naalehu be connected to new county wastewater treatment facilities. An additional 95 properties not currently served by the cesspools also would receive access to the new wastewater treatment facilities.

Mansour said the county submitted a design/build plan for a system that doesn’t require lagoons. He said he couldn’t get the state Department of Health’s approval on the plan before submitting it to the EPA because of time constraints. He said the department is being transparent with both the state and EPA, vowing, “moving forward, things are going to be smoother, I hope.”

Commission Chairwoman Georjean Adams sought clarification: “We knew we took the hit on delay of plans but we didn’t want to stick with a bad idea.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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