HONOLULU - The state Department of Health and Honolulu have agreed on a $1.2 million settlement in one of Hawaii's most controversial water pollution cases.
The department fined the city for Clean Water Act violations involving the alleged dumping of 257 truckloads of concrete waste in Mailiili Stream in Waianae in 2008 and 2009. The city was ordered to pay a $1.7 million penalty, which a department hearings office upheld. The city appealed in court.
Under the settlement announced Wednesday, the city will pay $1.2 million to support water quality improvements on the Waianae Coast and spend $200,000 to install storm water control projects to improve water quality in the area, the Department of Health said. The public has until May 14 to comment on the proposed settlement.
City officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. In 2009, a spokesman said city workers placed concrete rubble from sidewalk repairs in the stream area to restore an access road along the bank and that workers were unaware a permit might have been needed.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Honolulu to remove the illegal fill and restore the stream's bed and banks. The EPA said inspectors confirmed that concrete rubble, metal debris, used asphalt and dirt were placed in the stream.
"The Department of Facility Maintenance has improved its procedures to prevent this type of incident from happening again, and this settlement will allow the city to focus its resources on projects that mutually benefit the city and state, instead of continued litigation," Director Westley Chun said in a statement Wednesday.
Lucy Gay, who teachers a seniors' computer literacy course that has a civic engagement component at the Waianae campus of Leeward Community College, took her students to the stream after an environmental activist alerted her to the concrete.
"We saw large chunks of concrete in the stream, on the bank of the stream. It looked like workers took great pains to try to lay them out," she said. "It was an unexpected thing to see waste in our stream."
Gay and her class, along with activist Carroll Cox, reported the concrete to the Army Corps of Engineers, which referred the case to the EPA.
The most troubling aspect was how concrete would affect native birds nesting at the stream, they said.
"It's total disregard on the part of our city officials," Gay said. "It wasn't just that they dumped in the stream, but it's the nature of the stream."
She said while she applauds the settlement, she would like to see something that addresses the birds: "If we're going to fine them, let's put it back into what was harmed."
Cox said the settlement is disappointing because it doesn't address who's to blame and who will be punished. "To me, it's one of the most significant wetland areas," he said. "It's a do-nothing response."