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Council votes to settle injection wells case

The Maui County Council voted 5-4 on Friday afternoon to approve a settlement in the longstanding Lahaina injection wells case.

The resolution approved by the council also authorizes Mayor Michael Victorino to withdraw the case, which is expected to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 6.

“This was a historic vote,” said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney with Earthjustice who has been representing the four community groups that sued the county in 2012 over the use of the injection wells. “The first time in years and years of this litigation that the majority of the council showed true leadership and decided to focus on solutions here at home, rather than just business as usual and continual litigation.”

Victorino did not say what he planned to do on Friday afternoon but issued a statement saying that “my administration will review its options.”

“I am committed to 100 percent reuse of recycled water, but no matter what happens with permits that have become the object of over-heated debate, these improvements cannot happen overnight,” Victorino said. “Our experts, the wastewater engineers and managers who work every day on the front lines of this issue, tell us our current permits under the Safe Drinking Water Act are appropriate and that permits under the Clean Water Act would be a regulatory nightmare.”

In 2012, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, West Maui Preservation Association and Sierra Club sued the county over its use of injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Plaintiffs say the effluent is reaching the ocean and impacting coral reefs and sea life.

The county argues that the discharge of treated wastewater from injection wells does not require permits under the Clean Water Act because the pollutants do not flow directly into the ocean but rather indirectly through groundwater.

In November, the case is set to be heard by the high court after circuit courts around the country were split over the reach of the Clean Water Act. Maui County has lost in lower courts.

For more on this story, see Saturday’s Maui News.