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Alternatives sought for Ka‘u sewer project

  • MANSOUR

Faced with sewer hookup fees higher than the value of the homes themselves, property owners have cajoled, badgered and even filed a lawsuit to stop sewer projects in Naalehu and Pahala that are aimed at getting the county out from under a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consent order.

Now, new Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth’s administration is taking a second look.

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Environmental Management Director Ramzi Mansour has been meeting with consultants for the $130 million project, trying to find a less expensive solution that would still meet EPA and state Department of Health requirements. Right now, he said, hookup costs are about $400,000 per home.

“It’s going to be a very, very costly project and we cannot afford it as a county and we can’t afford it as taxpayers,” Mansour told the Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday. “My alternative hopefully will save millions and millions of dollars.”

Jerry Warren and Sandra Demourelle asked the county to go back to a less expensive wastewater treatment project in Naalehu that the community favored and a 2007 environmental assessment found had no significant impact. A judge dismissed Demourelle’s lawsuit seeking redress, while Warren was penalized for not paying his sewer bills in protest.

“The department’s sewer plans were forced upon this town,” Warren told the commission. “Let developers install their own infrastructure.”

Both were praised by Commissioner Dee Fulton.

“Thank you to Mr. Warren and Ms. Demourelle for their persistence,” Fulton said. “Hopefully we will have an administration seeking alternative solutions.”

Commissioners seemed amenable to more cost-effective alternatives.

“This doesn’t need a $100 million solution to a $5 million problem,” said Commissioner Rick Gaffney.

The EPA has been pushing the county since the 1990s to replace the gang cesspools previously owned by C Brewer &Co. The county missed its 2005 deadline to comply, creating the current dilemma the county faces between expensive hookups and stiff fines. The county has a July deadline to submit design plans.

“I can understand why EPA has taken a hard line,” Mansour said. “We definitely want to continue working with them, and hopefully we can come to a resolution maybe extending deadline.”

The county under the prior administration committed to the two large sewer treatment plants and agreed to pay hookup fees for those who are currently hooked up to the gang cesspool. Homeowners who are not connected to the cesspools where homes are within 300 feet of the new county sewer lines will be required to connect and pay for the sewer hookup.

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Mansour thinks the two sewer plants are too much, especially in light of the limits on growth in that area of Ka‘u. He’s investigating an alternative that would use modular units. Modular units such as those made by Newterra and Bioxica can be assembled on site and added to or subtracted from as the needs of the community change.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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