State briefs for March 17

Lawmakers consider restrictions on landfill sites

HONOLULU — State lawmakers are considering a large amount of public comment on proposed legislation to keep landfills from intruding on residential areas.

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The state Senate passed a bill that is now in the House concerning where to dispose of waste.

Individuals, government agencies, business organizations, and unions weighed in with more than 200 pages of written comments on the Senate bill, which was drafted to impose a buffer of a half-mile around waste disposal facilities.

The initial version of the bill could have forced the closure of every waste management facility in the state and produced a threat to public health, the state Department of Health said.

After two revisions, the bill appears to target a proposed expansion of the only landfill accepting commercial construction and demolition debris on Oahu, a privately owned PVT Land Co. facility.

PVT wants to expand its landfill onto an adjacent site and maintain a 750-foot buffer from the nearest homes in line with its existing operations permitted by the health department.

PVT showed through nine human health risk studies over the past 15 years that dust blowing from its operations does not pose a health concern, the company said.

The bill’s current form would prohibit development of any new or expanded waste disposal facility that needs a permit review and modification if the facility lacks a half-mile buffer from a neighboring residential, school or hospital property line.

PVT said the bill is not necessary because there are already state and county regulations for landfill buffer zones.

Several West Oahu residents endorsed the bill with claims of negative health effects for people living close to landfills.

The bill’s supporters include the Sierra Club of Hawaii, several Hawaiian civic clubs, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs and nine organized labor organizations including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, United Public Workers, UNITE HERE Local 5, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Advocates launch nonprofit group to rid Hawaii of cesspools

HONOLULU — A pair of environmental advocates launched an organization to help rid Hawaii of cesspools that threaten public health and the marine environment.

Wastewater Alternatives and Innovations plans to help the state address sewage pollution by finding ways to convert cesspools to effective treatment systems.

Stuart Coleman left his position as Hawaii manager of the Surfrider Foundation to devote his efforts to assist the state and homeowners with cesspool conversion.

He teamed with John Anner of the Coral Reef Alliance to start the nonprofit organization.

Anner previously operated an international nonprofit group that sought solutions to wastewater issues in Southeast Asian countries.

Coleman was first alerted to the state’s sewage pollution problem when Honolulu diverted 48 million gallons (181.6 million liters) of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal after a sewage line ruptured. The spill forced the city to temporarily close beaches in Waikiki.

There are about 88,000 cesspools across the state releasing 53 million gallons of raw sewage into the groundwater daily. About 90% of Hawaii’s drinking water comes from groundwater, state officials said.

Untreated wastewater from cesspools contains pathogens that can cause gastroenteritis, hepatitis A, conjunctivitis, leptospirosis, salmonella, and cholera.

The cost of cesspool upgrades can range from $20,000 to $30,000, officials said.

“I think people recognize this is an important issue and we’re one of the only organizations that’s dedicated to it exclusively in helping to solve the problem,” Coleman said.

The state passed a 2016 statewide cesspool ban and legislation to provide tax credits to assist homeowners with cesspool upgrades.

“The bottom line is our state depends on tourism and we just can’t afford to have dirty water because it affects our health, our environment and our basic economy,” Coleman said.

Coleman also serves as a member of the state’s cesspool conversion working group tasked with developing a long-range, comprehensive plan to replace all cesspools of any size by 2050.

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Several bills have been introduced in the current legislative session to help the state reach the 2050 deadline.

“The goal is to get rid of all the cesspools,” Anner said. “There’s no one solution that will work for everybody.”

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