Estimate for wastewater treatment plant doubles

The price tag of a wastewater treatment plant proposed for Naalehu has increased to $40.5 million.

The latest estimate, which includes a 20 percent contingency, is listed in a preliminary engineering report for a new preferred site on the makai side of town, below the Naalehu Hongwanji.


The project was previously reported to cost $20.3 million.

“I do know we have significant more sewer line that’s going in than originally estimated,” said Bill Kucharski, Hawaii County environmental management director, when addressing the increase. “Moving the facility is going to have a greater number of people connected.”

The county previously proposed building it adjacent to Naalehu Elementary School. That site faced community opposition.

Kucharski also suggested that the time-crunch for the project makes it harder to contain costs.

“I am confident as any assessment for something being built in two years can be,” he said, when asked if he is confident that price won’t further increase. “We intend to meet our completion schedule.”

The county is under an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close large-capacity cesspools in Naalehu in 2022 and Pahala in 2021, or face daily fines. The cesspools were previously owned by C. Brewer &Co.

Sewer treatment plans are proposed for both communities.

Previously, county officials had said both projects would cost a combined $41 million.

Kucharski said the Pahala project is currently estimated at roughly $28 million to $30 million.

He said state revolving fund loans are planned to be used to finance the projects.

Naaelhu resident Sandra Demoruelle, who is suing the county over the projects, said the county is not getting enough bang for its buck.

“You want a $40 million sewer plant in a $10 million town,” she said, referring to her estimate of property values.

“You are spending $250,000 to close each LCC.”

The county previously considered large community septic tanks as a solution.

The preliminary engineering report for the Naalehu project says that would require a 966,000-gallon tank. It didn’t say whether that option is more or less feasible, though it notes odor from a single emission point could be a significant concern and variances from the state Department of Health would be needed.

However, it says having each home install a septic tank is considered not feasible due to the small size of the lots.

In Pahala, the plant is proposed for the intersection of Maile Street and Highway 11, on the mauka side. An environmental assessment was published in September, and the county recently extended the comment period until Dec. 10.

That facility would initially serve about 175 properties.

In Naalehu, 182 would be initially connected.

The preferred site is on the same 2,013-acre parcel that is being considered for a Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission purchase because it contains the former Waikapuna fishing village along the coast. Kucharski said the 17-acre plant could be separated and wouldn’t impact the cultural resources.

Properties along the path of the sewer pipes are required to connect.

Those that are not connected to the gang cesspools will have to pay for the connections, which could cost $10,000 to $20,000 each, Kucharski has said.

He said the county is looking for ways to offset that cost.


Kucharski said the county will host community meetings on the new preferred site, but those aren’t scheduled yet.

Email Tom Callis at

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