State briefs for July 17

Judge says Maui must get Clean Water Act permit for effluent

WAILUKU, Maui — A federal judge ruled Maui County must get permits to operate injection wells that environmental groups said are polluting the ocean.

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Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2012 over the injection wells, saying effluent from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility was entering the ocean and damaging coral reefs and sea life.

The groups pointed to studies that traced the discharge from two wells to the ocean.

In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway sided with the environmental groups and ordered Maui County to “obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act consistent with the analysis established by the Supreme Court,” The Maui News reported.

Maui county officials had refused to settle the case and brought it to the Supreme Court in 2019.

The Supreme Court in April 2020 ruled that injection wells fall under the Clean Water Act.

The county argued that treated wastewater from injection wells did not require permits under the Clean Water Act because the discharge did not go directly into the ocean.

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said that the discharge of polluted water in the ground, rather than directly into nearby waterways, does not relieve an industry of complying with the Clean Water Act.

David Henkin, an attorney from Earthjustice who argued the case, said Thursday’s order could be the end of legal proceedings unless the county decides to appeal again.

“We are hopeful that the mayor will stop wasting taxpayer resources on courts and focus on what he says he wants to do,” Henkin said, noting the administration has said it is committed to reusing the Lahaina wastewater.

If that is the case, he said, “then stop fighting in court and trying to gut the Clean Water Act and just focus on that task, which is frankly all our clients who are all Maui residents ever asked the county.”

Maui County Communications Director Brian Perry said Thursday that the county is “disappointed” in the ruling “but prides itself on its environmental stewardship that began decades ago when its leaders made the decision to focus on water reclamation and reuse rather than ocean outfalls.”

He said the Lahaina facility treats incoming wastewater to “the highest quality in the state.” The recycled water is used for irrigation, he said.

“A troubling aspect to this ruling is the potential impact to the county’s recycled water program,” Perry said. “The county will continue to analyze the impact of this ruling.”

Airline that ditched plane is grounded

A cargo airline whose plane ditched into the ocean off Hawaii has been grounded after investigators looked into the company’s safety practices before the accident.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that it will bar Rhoades Aviation of Honolulu from flying or doing maintenance inspections until it meets FAA regulations.

The agency did not detail Rhoades’ alleged shortcomings. The company did not immediately respond to phone and email messages for comment.

The decision to ground the carrier, which operates as Transair, is separate from the investigation into the July 2 ditching of a Boeing 737, the FAA said. Two pilots were rescued by the Coast Guard after the nighttime crash.

The company had one plane still in operation this week, a Boeing 737-200 like the one that crashed.

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The FAA said it began investigating Rhoades Aviation’s maintenance and safety practices last fall and told the company about two weeks before the crash that it planned to revoke its authority to do maintenance inspections. The company did not appeal the FAA’s decision within the 30 days as required if it wanted the case reconsidered, the FAA said.

The pilots attempted to turn back to Honolulu after telling an air traffic controller that they had lost power in one engine and feared that the other engine on the 46-year-old plane would also fail. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board found the wreckage of the plane but have not yet recovered the data recorders that could hold clues about what caused the plane to go down.

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