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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 6, 2001

Honolulu Harbor cleanup begins

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Clattering and clinking like an oversized jack-hammer, a truck-mounted drill bored into the oil-soaked soil under Pier 26 in Honolulu Harbor yesterday as a dozen waterfront landowners launched the biggest pollution cleanup in Hawai'i history.

Dave Davis of ESN Pacific uses a direct-push sampling rig to take one of dozens of core samples to evaluate the location and degree of underground oil contamination.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

After chomping through the asphalt paving on the pier, the bit soon chewed into coral fill as it dug for signs of petroleum products that have leaked and seeped from pipes and tanks and drains into land and water along Honolulu's shore for about 100 years.

It is one of the first of 130 holes being drilled into the harbor area from Piers 38 to 24 during the next six to eight weeks to gauge the extent and severity of the contamination.

Workers took a 30-inch long core sample, about two inches in diameter, broke it into sections, and tagged and bagged each one for shipment to a mainland laboratory.

This first survey phase will cost less than $1 million, but could lead to cleanup bills of tens of millions of dollars over the next several years, State Health Director Bruce Anderson said.

The work is necessary to protect public health and to allow for any redevelopment in the area, he said.

Developers already have found their land recontaminated with oil from adjacent areas within six months of total cleanup, indicating a global approach to the problem is required, the health director said.

The pollution is impeding development of the "Fishing Village" project planned for the Pier 38 area to replace the fish auction house in Kewalo Basin and surround it with waterfront renewal, said Gary Gill, deputy director for environmental health.

And the stakes will be higher if Honolulu attempts more urban renewal along its waterfront as San Francisco has, according to Steve Calanog, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The dozen partners in the cleanup have banded together as "Honolulu Harbor Participating Parties" to take on the effort — and all of the costs — of surveying, containing and removing the contamination.

The 12 are BHP Companies, Castle & Cooke, Chevron, City Mill, DIL Trust, State of Hawai'i Department of Transportation Harbors Division, Hawaiian Electric Company, Phillips Petroleum, Equilon Enterprises, Texaco and Tosco Corp.

The test bore holes are intended to reveal the direction a "plume" of pollution has taken through the soil. Holes that strike oil will be monitored over time to see if and where oil is still moving.

Henry Curtis, head of the Life of the Land environmental group, was on hand yesterday and said he is glad to see the project start.

Curtis said the public should participate in examining the environmental impact of the cleanup, and the degree to which the property is decontaminated.

Anderson said the goal is not to make the area "pristine," because it has been, and much of it will remain, in industrial use.

"How clean is clean?" asked EPA's Canalog. "We won't know that until we found out how dirty dirty is."

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.