Anaergia plan for waste-processing, energy-producing plant hits setback

Judge rules project at Kahului wastewater plant needs new EIS

A 2nd Circuit judge on Tuesday voided the environmental impact statement for a proposed renewable energy conversion and sludge processing project at the county’s Kahului wastewater treatment plant to be built by Anaergia Services subsidiary Maui All Natural Alternative.

In his ruling from the bench, Maui Environmental Court Judge Joseph Cardoza said that the processing and disposal of municipal wastewater historically has been a governmental function, said attorney Lance Collins, who represented two local environmental groups opposing the EIS. Cardoza ruled that the project must go through the more rigorous environmental review process for government projects and not the private review process as was done for the project.

The judge noted that the entire project would occur at the Kahului treatment facility on county land with county funds.

“While the county has increasingly relied upon privatization to accomplish historic government functions, the government cannot escape full environmental review of its proposed projects simply by involving private businesses,” Collins said in a news release.

He explained in a phone interview Tuesday that the project should be treated as a government action and that the “county will scrutinize” its projects “much more” because government funds and property are involved.

“Every ‘i’ has to be dotted and ‘t’ crossed very carefully,” he said.

The court voided the approval of the EIS last March by the county Department of Environmental Management and determined the process used was improper, Collins said.

The Sierra Club Maui Group and Maui Tomorrow Foundation filed suit last May challenging the project’s EIS approval.

Kaala Buenconsejo, business development director for Anaergia, took issue with the ruling.

“We believe the decision is wrong and should not be upheld because it is not based on any provision of the Hawaii law governing EISes,” he said Tuesday.

The company believes that the ruling “may also create a huge burden on the county if the county has to complete an expensive and time-consuming EIS for any project on which a private company works if the project is related to a county function.”

“The county taxpayers, instead of the private company, would bear the expense of preparing the EIS,” he said.

When asked if Anaergia would be appealing the decision, Buenconsejo said the company is evaluating all its options and is working with the county.

Maui County spokesman Brian Perry said Tuesday that Mayor Michael Victorino’s administration is “considering Judge Cardoza’s ruling and our options going forward.”

Collins said that redoing the EIS would probably take a year or more, about the same amount of time an appeal might take.

The Maui All Natural Alternative project aims to install an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas from energy crops grown on 500 acres of former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. lands, according to its final EIS. The energy crops would be provided by Central Maui Feedstocks, a domestic limited liability company created in November 2016 by Alexander & Baldwin.

The company was part of the sale of old HC&S fields to Mahi Pono in December, according to A&B.

The methane gas would be refined at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility and fuel a combined heat-and-power engine to generate electricity for the treatment plant. Waste heat from the engine would dry wastewater solid matter, also know as sludge.

The sludge would be trucked in from wastewater treatment facilities at Kihei, Lahaina and the Kahului wastewater facility, said Collins.

The project is not designed to add electricity to the Maui Electric Co. grid, the final EIS said.

The new facility would be located on the west side of the treatment plant’s existing aerobic blower building. The 18.8-acre treatment plant is next to the ocean on Amala Place in Kahului.

In 2016, the Maui County Council approved a resolution for a 20-year lease to Anaergia for a 1-acre site within the state-owned treatment plant property.

County officials have said Anaergia would develop the facility at no construction cost to the county, and then the county would pay the company 29 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity produced at the plant. And, the cost of disposing the sludge would be reduced from $103 to $80 per ton by switching from EKO Compost to Anaergia, officials said.

The renewable energy project would generate electricity and “waste heat from electricity generation to dry the county’s wastewater sludge to provide cost savings to the county,” Buenconsejo said.

The project was first proposed through a county procurement, with Anaergia as the sole bidder in that process, the plaintiffs said. Anaergia also currently holds a county waste-to-energy landfill gas contract.

“Even without considering the serious environmental problems with this project, it would have ended up costing Maui taxpayers tens of millions of dollars with no real benefit over the life of the project,” said Michael Williams, president of Maui Tomorrow Foundation.

“Sierra Club is very much in favor of increasing the use of renewable energy, including in microgrids for specific purposes,” said Rob Weltman, president of Sierra Club Maui Group “However, it must be done in a responsible way which does not result in new threats to our sensitive shoreline environment.”

Collins noted that the previous mayoral administration of Alan Arakawa was “heavily pushing this project.” If current Mayor Victorino says no, “it is not going anywhere,” he said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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