A lawsuit against two county officials over two planned Ka‘u sewer plants was dismissed earlier this month.
The lawsuit was filed by Naalehu resident Sandra Demoruelle last year against Department of Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski and the department’s Wastewater Division chief Dora Beck.
In the suit, Demoruelle asked the court to require the county to turn over copies of draft environmental assessments relating to planned wastewater treatment plants in Naalehu and Pahala and that the county halt all planning on the projects until the environmental assessments were released.
However, Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura found the suit without merit and announced Oct. 11 a decision to dismiss the suit, although a formal judgment remains pending.
In court filings and hearings, Kucharski and Beck insisted no such draft environmental assessments yet existed and were not due for some time, making the lawsuit premature.
During a hearing in August, Kucharski told the court that the department had only just begun to draft the environmental assessment for the Naalehu plant.
A 2007 environmental assessment for a similar, less expensive wastewater treatment project in Naalehu found no significant impact, after community participation. Demoruelle, representing herself, argued that the Department of Environmental Management chose to abandon a project that the community approved of in favor of two new projects, estimated to cost a total of $41 million, on which the community has not been able to weigh in.
“The department is once again being given leeway to evade environmental review,” Demoruelle said. “The county is authorizing expenditures without doing the necessary environmental review.”
Kucharski argued during the August hearing that new projects require new environmental assessments and that new assessments require a specific site be selected. One potential site drew criticism in 2018 for being located near Naalehu Elementary and Intermediate School.
“You do not do an (environmental assessment) on a general concept,” Kucharski said during the hearing, adding that the project simply hadn’t progressed to a point where the assessment was possible.
The two projects have generated controversy among Ka‘u residents. The county is required to comply with a federal order to close large-scale “gang” cesspools in Ka‘u, but the new wastewater facilities replacing the cesspools will come with a cost for some residents.
While residents hooked up to the cesspools will not have to pay to connect to the new sewer, owners of property along the sewer lines are required by county code to connect at their own expense. Kucharski said earlier this year that about 66 properties will have to pay to connect, which could cost anywhere from $5,000-$20,000.
Demoruelle on Wednesday said she wasn’t surprised by the decision to dismiss the suit, saying that Nakamura seemed inclined to do so throughout proceedings. However, she also intends to appeal the decision and will seek legal representation as the suit continues.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.