Hu Honua fined for wastewater discharge

  • Warren Lee
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo A tour is led through the Hu Honua Bioenergy plant in 2017.

The state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch is fining Hu Honua Bioenergy $25,000 for discharging industrial wastewater into the ocean Nov. 9 at the biomass power plant under construction in Pepeekeo.

According to the DOH, the discharge was intentional and violates state law.

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“Our inspectors have confirmed a worker for Hu Honua Bioenergy opened a valve on its industrial wastewater treatment tank and allowed the contents of the tank to discharge from their facility into the environment,” said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of DOH’s Environmental Health Administration, on Wednesday in a statement. “This is a serious violation as discharges without permit authorization are strictly prohibited to protect human and environmental health from exposure to pollutants, which can cause serious and sometimes irreparable harm.”

The discharge occurred five days prior to a contentious public hearing in Hilo where opponents of the project requested an environmental impact statement be performed before the power plant is completed. The hearing focused on the biomass project’s storm water discharge and water injection well permits.

The project is being built without an EIS or environmental assessment as DOH officials contend the project doesn’t require review under the state’s environmental laws. Triggers for environmental review can include use of public lands or public funds.

Dave Clark, a worker at the site, told the Tribune-Herald at the hearing 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.

According to the DOH, its investigation of the incident determined the discharged wastewater was generated between Nov. 2 and Nov. 6 as part of Hu Honua’s commissioning of its boiler. The industrial wastewater produced by a boiler flush had been stored in wastewater treatment tanks prior to the discharge. Between 3,500 gallons and 32,500 gallons of treated industrial wastewater — composed of fresh water, acidic metal cleaning solution and residue from descaling of the boiler — were discharged, according to the DOH.

While the dark-green-colored wastewater was filtered and neutralized prior to discharge, it contained high levels of iron and is regulated waste, the DOH said.

Hu Honua self-reported the discharge to the DOH. A previous statement from the company characterized the wastewater as “inadvertently released without authorization from a settling tank where it was still in the process of being treated.”

“Initially, we thought it was inadvertent, but certainly, it’s unauthorized,” said Hu Honua President Warren Lee on Wednesday.

DOH is also requiring Hu Honua to implement environmental compliance training for all its employees within 30 days and develop standard operating procedures to prevent discharges of a similar nature.

“Basically, we completed that already, even before the notice came out,” Lee said. He said the training consisted of “what to do, what not to do and when you’re authorized to do it.”

“And also, basically, what that outfall is for,” Lee added. “It’s for storm water discharge.”

After all corrective actions are completed, Hu Honua is also required to submit a corrective action report to the DOH.

In addition, the DOH issued a formal request for information, and Hu Honua is required to provide timely responses to the department’s questions.

Hu Honua can request a hearing to contest the order and information request within 20 days.

“We’ll have to look at the … notice of violation and see how they came to their conclusions … before we make any decision on how we proceed,” Lee said.

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Hu Honua, which is doing business as Honua Ola, has a power purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric Light Co. for 21.5 megawatts of electricity. The power would be generated by burning wood chips from eucalyptus trees harvested on the island, which would create steam.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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