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EPA Requiring County to Close Large Cesspools in Pāhala and Nā‘ālehu

June 19, 2018, 1:20 PM HST
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The County of Hawai‘i is being required to close Large Capacity Cesspools (LCC) in Pāhala and Nā‛ālehu by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The County Department of Environmental Management (DEM) currently operates three LCCs in Nā‛ālehu. Untreated wastewater from Nā’ālehu cesspools is currently disposed directly into the ground. This disposal method is a potential health hazard, and harms the environment on many levels.

DEM is working to find the best replacement technology and a suitable location for a new wastewater treatment plant. The current proposed technology is an environment-friendly option that fully complies with regulatory requirements that help protect our precious ground and ocean water quality. It is a low-energy natural process that will treat wastewater in lagoons and then in a subsurface wetland, after which the treated water will be used for irrigation of native tree groves introduced specifically for this purpose. This process will be low maintenance and monitored to ensure quality control.

Concurrent with technological explorations has been the search for suitable sites. This is a complex process. There are several factors that need to be considered, such as potential impacts to significant archaeological and cultural resources, soil quality, the presence of drinking water wells, and other environmental factors. Location also impacts ratepayers. Long transmission distance and the need to pump wastewater uphill for treatment can impose significant costs.

Public input is factored into project planning, including site selection. DEM recently started extensive community outreach programs in Nā‛ālehu (and Pāhala) to share current project information, answer questions, and listen to people’s reactions. In these outreach activities, the project team continually stresses that it is early in the formal review process. Specifics about technology and sites are not finalized.

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Required environmental studies have not yet been completed, and DEM Director William Kucharski stressed that, “Preliminary designs for these potential sites were prepared to elicit comments, commence dialogue and satisfy obligations in the EPA Administrative Order and Consent.”

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Interviews and talk story sessions were held in Nā‛ālehu in early April. About a hundred people participated. They expressed strong concerns about the site that was presented at these gatherings. To date, over 30 sites have been evaluated and the site selection process continues. “No property may be purchased before an Environmental Assessment / Impact Statement has been fully completed,” Director Kucharski said. The EA/EIS process provides opportunities for community review and comments. A proposed final draft EA has not yet been published for the Nā‛ālehu project.

DEM will conduct a second round of community outreach as the Department prepares and finalizes the required environmental studies. Mahalo for your continued interest and patience as DEM explores the best solutions to meet the wastewater needs of the Nā‛ālehu community.

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For further information, contact Rana Rodillas at (808) 961-8615.

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