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Hawai‘i County Fined for Failure to Meet Deadline in Design of Pāhala Wastewater Treatment Facility

By Tiffany DeMasters
November 10, 2021, 12:36 PM HST
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The County of Hawai‘i is being fined $28,500 for failure to meet the milestone requiring the complete design of the Pāhala Wastewater Treatment Facility in Pāhala that will replace five large capacity cesspools (LCCs).

In June 2017, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the county voluntarily entered into an order for the Pāhala Community Large Capacity Cesspools Closure Project, an EPA press release stated. Under the agreement, approximately 272 properties served by the LCCs in the Pāhala and Nāʻālehu communities will be connected to the new county wastewater treatment facilities.  An additional 95 properties not currently served by the LCCs in the Pāhala and Nāʻālehu communities will receive access to the new wastewater treatment facilities.

In the 2017 order, the county agreed to close five large capacity LCCs that serve the Pāhala and Nāʻālehu communities and replace the cesspools with wastewater treatment facilities approved by the Hawai‘i Department of Health. According to the release, the county was required to complete the Pāhala Wastewater Treatment Plant design and have it approved by the DOH by July 24, 2021.

For more information on this specific order click here.

“County of Hawai‘i has failed to meet its legal commitment to modernize wastewater infrastructure,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Director of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division, Amy Miller. “EPA expects the County to expeditiously construct the Pāhala Wastewater Treatment Facility to protect drinking water and coastal resources on the Big Island.”

This afternoon, Nov. 10, Hawaiʻi County officials confirmed it was planning to pay the fine. According to a statement by Mayor Mitch Roth, he stated his administration has been working with the EPA and the community to close the large capacity cesspools in Pāhala and Nā‘ālehu.

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“However, upon revaluation of the project and discovery in April of a more extensive lava tube system than previously anticipated, we consciously decided to do further environmental review to select a wastewater treatment plant that will reduce environmental and fiscal concerns,” Roth said.

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At the time, Roth said the county understood this descition to take more time for further review would result in fines.

“We chose to move forward as it is in the community’s best interest to create permanent solutions rather than temporary fixes,” the mayor stated. That said, we understand the seriousness of the fine and will continue to work hard to meet the remaining compliance deadlines – so long as we may do so without jeopardizing the health and safety of our residents and the environments in which they live.”

The bottom line, Roth added, is that the new WWTP will yield reduced costs and reduced environmental impacts, far outweighing the current fines.

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“We’d like to thank the community of Kaʻū for their continued support and input as we work through this issue together,” the mayor stated.

An LCC is a cesspool serving multi-unit residential homes, a non-residential facility with the capacity to serve 20 or more people per day or home business. LCCs were banned under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in April 2005. Since the 2005 LCC ban, more than 3,600 LCCs in Hawaii have been closed; however, hundreds remain in operation.

Cesspools collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater, streams, and the ocean. Groundwater provides 95% of all domestic water in Hawaiʻi.

For more information on the LCC ban, click here.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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