Big Island examines more sites for Naalehu sewer plant

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Big Island officials are examining two more possible sites for a sewer plant in Naalehu after previously evaluating 29 locations.

The 29th site was Hawaii County’s most promising location for the $20.3 million project on the southern side of the island, but the location elicited complaints from residents who said it was too close to Naalehu Elementary and Intermediate School, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

The plant will change the area’s wastewater treatment methods after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the closure of large-capacity cesspools in Naalehu and Pahala by April 2022. According to a letter from the agency last month, the county was given two extra years to acquire land for the project, but the closure deadline remains in place.

The $20.7 million sewer project in Pahala is proceeding faster. The county selected a site after evaluating nine locations. It will then conduct an environmental assessment before the land can be purchased.

For the Naalehu project, officials will investigate two sites on land owned by Royal Hawaiian Coffee and Tea. Officials have until late November to complete the first phase of the environmental assessment, according to the EPA.

The large number of site evaluations is unusual, but it’s difficult and expensive to acquire land in Hawaii, said Bill Kucharski, the county’s environmental management director.