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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

EPA's inspection report refuted

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Weeks before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited Honolulu's Sand Island wastewater treatment plant yesterday for multiple violations of its federal discharge permit, the city blasted an EPA inspection team and pressured the agency to rescind some highly critical findings.

The city was "extremely disappointed by the inaccurate misrepresentations of plant operations and the resultant perception of immediate health risks to our recreational receiving waters," city Department of Environmental Services director Timothy Steinberger wrote in an Aug. 21 letter to the EPA.

He complained that the agency had refused to withdraw or amend its inspection report "to reflect the correct information" and that inspectors' findings "appear to represent personal agendas" designed to force the city to upgrade the Sand Island plant.

In the July inspection report, the EPA found that the facility had six ongoing permit violations or irregularities, and made a dozen improvement recommendations.

The report noted that the city is more than a year behind schedule in building a $70 million sewage disinfection unit at Sand Island, and questioned the accuracy of water samples taken offshore.

An EPA consultant further recommended that the city set up additional water monitoring stations to detect whether wastewater discharged by the plant enters recreational waters around Ala Moana and Waikiki.

In his letter, Steinberger argued that the construction delay should count as a permit violation, and questioned whether there was any urgent need to complete the project.

"What is the 'problem?' " he wrote. "Do we have an immediate health hazard which is continuing due to delay of the construction schedule?"

Yesterday, the EPA ordered the city to "initiate all necessary measures to prevent all further permit violations" and to submit detailed schedules for completing the disinfection unit project and make other improvements or face fines of up to $27,500 per day.

Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration responded that much of the problem is likely caused by people pouring pesticides down their drains, and that contaminants "do not pose any danger to health or marine life at our deep ocean outfall."

The administration said it would comply with the EPA's orders.

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.