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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 25, 2003

Reef runway to get polluted sludge from canal cleanup

By Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Staff Writer

The final stage of the Ala Wai Canal dredging project will begin late next week, following the issuance of a state Department of Health permit to dump the polluted muck at Honolulu International Airport's reef runway.

Although dredging of the canal is 96 percent complete, the last section, at the Kapahulu end of the canal, has been the most controversial because the sediment there contains urban contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.

Some Kalihi residents pressed the state to find an alternative to dumping the polluted material, and suggested bioremediation, a process which uses plants and bacteria to break down pollutants.

The Department of Health issued the special waste landfill permit Monday and the work is scheduled to begin late next week, said Neil Williams, project manager for American Marine, the firm doing the dredging.

American Marine won the $7.4 million contract to remove two decades of sediment and debris that left the canal only inches deep in some areas.

Dredging started on the two-mile canal Aug. 22 but was delayed when the last portion of muck failed to pass an environmental test that would have allowed the waste to be dumped into the ocean.

"We just wanted them to promise us that they'd look for other alternatives," said Bernie Young, chairwoman of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board. "If the waste is as safe as they say it is, then why remove it in the first place?"

Gary Siu, permitting engineer with the Division of Land and Natural Resources, said the Ala Wai needs to be dredged to meet minimum depth requirements for canals.

Williams said this kind of dredging is done all the time without harming the environment or surrounding communities. "I personally think that this whole issue has been blown out of proportion," he said. "They've been dredging the same kind of stuff from the San Francisco Bay for decades without a negative impact on the environment."

About 184,000 cubic yards of sediment had been removed and taken to an ocean dumping site near the airport when the project was put on hold, Williams said. His crew has been waiting for about a month to finish the job.

Williams said workers will start by preparing the dumping site — a cement-lined pit near the airport — to receive the waste. The dredged material will then be mixed with a cement binder, poured into the pit and used as structural fill at the airport. Williams said the project will take about a month to complete.