Final EA released for Pahala wastewater plant

  • KUCHARSKI

A final environmental assessment was published Sunday for the proposed Pahala wastewater treatment facility.

The plant, when completed, will replace two large-capacity cesspools that have served the community since the sugar plantation era.

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The 947-page document, prepared by Wilson Okamoto Corp. in Honolulu, states the proposed project will have no significant impact.

The estimated cost of the facility is $16 million, plus $2 million for a concrete lagoon lining, if required. Annual operations and maintenance cost of the plant is estimated at $227,000. In addition, the cost of closing the large-capacity cesspools, also known as “gang” cesspools, and a new collection system is estimated at $14 million.

“These numbers represent conceptual planning level cost estimates and do not include administrative, planning, design, land acquisition, or past project costs,” the document states. “Of the treatment alternatives that were deemed feasible and compared in the (preliminary engineering report), the proposed wastewater treatment and disposal facility design has the lowest estimated capital cost and estimated annual operations and maintenance cost.”

Closure of the large-capacity cesspools in Pahala and Na‘alehu, which were previously owned by C Brewer &Co., is required under a consent decree between the Environmental Protection Agency and the county. The final EA allows the county to go ahead and purchase property for the plant and put the project out for a competitive bid.

The preferred site for the plant is a 42.5-acre parcel owned by Kamehameha Schools and used as a macadamia nut orchard.

County Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said the consent decree mandates completion of the Pahala project in 2022 and the Na‘alehu project in 2023. The EA indicates closure of the Pahala gang cesspools is required by April 2023.

“The public still has the ability to go to court. And if that happens, that could be delayed until we get the court proceedings done,” Kucharski said Tuesday. ” … But once the EA is approved, we have firm deadlines we can move forward on.”

The proposed wastewater treatment plant in Pahala, and another in Na‘alehu currently in the draft environmental assessment process, have been controversial within the two Ka‘u communities.

A lawsuit filed in 2018 by Naalehu resident Sandra Demourelle against Kucharski and Dora Beck, DEM’s wastewater chief, was dismissed in October last year by Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura, who has since retired.

Demourelle, who said she plans to appeal, argued DEM chose to abandon a less expensive wastewater treatment project in Na‘alehu that the community favored and a 2007 environmental assessment found had no significant impact, in favor of two more expensive projects, at a cost of about $41 million, without adequate community input.

The county will pay the cost for connection to the new sewers for those who are currently hooked up to the gang cesspool. Homeowners who are not connected to the cesspools whose homes are within 300 feet of the new county sewer lines will be required to connect and pay for the sewer hookup, which could cost $10,000 to $20,000, Kucharski has said.

“The majority of the connections are going to be paid for by the county,” Kucharski noted. “The county code says if you’re within 300 feet of the sewer line, you need to connect if you’re home is there. For them, it’s critical, but in the whole mix, it’s not a very large percentage of those who are going to be connected.

“We have programs … particularly for those who have either a fixed income or low income … to help finance cost of the sewer connections.”

Three hard copies of the final EA document are available at the Pahala and Na‘alehu public libraries. The document also is online at http://bit.ly/2Q2DuY6.

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For more information, call DEM at 961-8083.

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

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