City delays cleanup of its debris in stream
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
A cleanup of debris left in a Leeward stream bed by city workers won't begin until fall so as to not disrupt endangered Hawaiian stilts nesting there through the summer.
Ironically, it was the improper placement of an estimated 1,500 cubic yards of concrete rubble, used asphalt, metal debris, soil and sediment in the bed of Mā'ili'ili Stream between February 2008 and May 2009 that apparently drew the birds there in the first place.
Jeoffrey Cudiamat, director of the Department of Facility Maintenance, said in an e-mail that the removal of heavy vegetation from the banks of the channel created a clearing.
"This clearing created an appealing area for the nesting of Hawaiian stilts, and a few of these birds nested there last summer," Cudiamat said. "The city does not wish to disturb any Hawaiian stilts that may nest in the area this year and will not start the actual removal of the concrete until the 2010 nesting season is complete, which is anticipated to be around the end of summer."
As a result, concrete removal will likely start in September and be completed next March, Cudiamat said.
He declined to provide a cost estimate, saying that revisions to the draft environmental plan may change the cost. The project must also go out to bid.
The city Department of Facility Maintenance acknowledged that its employees deposited an estimated 255 truckloads of waste in the stream. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Health Department cited the city last fall and ordered the city to clean up the debris.
A draft environmental assessment for restoration of Mā'ili'ili Stream was completed last month. The final day for public comment on the plan is tomorrow. An environmental assessment is done whenever city land or money is involved with a project.
Cudiamat and other city officials have continued to insist this was not a case of illegal dumping.
"The city workers involved were using the concrete slabs to stabilize the banks of the channel so that appropriate heavy equipment could safely operate and remove vegetation overgrowth," Cudiamat said.
Besides shoring up the banks of the stream, the debris helped create a temporary access path to assist workers clearing debris upstream, city officials said.
"The workers were not aware that environmental permits were needed for placing concrete on the banks of the channel," Cudiamat said. "Workers have since received environmental permit training which will help them identify similar situations in the future."
Cudiamat said there is an ongoing internal investigation of how the error occurred. He said road maintenance administrators, superintendents and section supervisors are now trained in permitting requirements involving material maintenance activities near waterways.
Among other improvements, more stringent internal controls and reporting procedures have put in place, and a drainage engineer now obtains permits for all maintenance work in or around waterways, Cudiamat said.
Carroll Cox of the watchdog group EnviroWatch said he was pleased with the proposed management plan.
"It seems like the (study) touches on a great number of things, more than I expected," Cox said.
He said he hopes that U.S. Fish & Wildlife people and EPA representatives will be invited here to train city employees.
Cox said he's also pleased with the sensitivity the city is showing to the birdlife in the area. "There are very limited places available for these animals to forage, feed and to hatch on that side of the island," he said.
Nonetheless, Cox said he continues to believe that the debris was dumped into the stream.
"They knew better," he said.
City Council Chairman Todd Apo said the plan is a first step toward resolving the situation.
"It's heading in the right direction," he said.