Spill at Hu Honua violated state law, says DOH

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A tour is lead through Hu Honua Bioenergy plant in 2017.

Hu Honua Bioenergy violated state law by discharging industrial wastewater into the ocean near Pepeekeo, the state Department of Health says.

DOH announced Friday it is pursuing an environmental enforcement action against the biomass facility that is under construction. An investigation is ongoing.

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“The discharge was a blatant disrespect of the environmental laws that govern this highly regulated industry,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson in a press release. “The history of concern over the operations of this facility emphasize the need for the Department of Health to take swift action on this violation.”

Hu Honua President Warren Lee has said the discharge on Nov. 9 was the result of a boiler flush. He said it was not something the company condones and that it notified DOH immediately.

Dave Clark, who is working at the site, told the Tribune-Herald last month that he saw a “black river of water” going over the cliff. He said the water had an odor and that the discharge was intentional.

Lee previously said less than 7,000 gallons were discharged into a catchment basin instead of being properly disposed of, with about 3,500 gallons overflowing and exiting through an outfall.

Clark said he thought Hu Honua was understating the volume.

DOH said enforcement personnel did an inspection Nov. 20, and it’s collecting more information to determine the size of the spill.

“While in general, the department does not provide information about ongoing investigations, given the public nature of this case and community concerns, we are confirming the cause of the spill and moving forward on the enforcement process,” said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of Environmental Health, in the statement. “Fortunately, our staff did not observe visible damage to the environment or determine an imminent threat to the health of the public from the discharge.”

In a statement, Hu Honua said DOH was misrepresenting the facts but didn’t specify the error.

The company said wastewater was “inadvertently released without authorization from a settling tank where it was still in the process of being treated.” It emphasized the statement from DOH that no damage to the environment or imminent health issues were determined.

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A formal report with recommendations for enforcement requirements and penalties will be completed. For unlawful discharges to state waters, violators face potential civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day per violation and potential criminal prosecution.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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