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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE         March 31, 2005              

Release M-27

          

MAYOR UNVEILS “OPERATION FIX” FOR OAHU’S SEWERS

 

 

            SAND ISLAND -- Mayor Mufi Hannemann today announced details of Operation FIX, a five-point program to address longstanding problems with Oahu’s municipal wastewater treatment system.

 

            The mayor met last week with regional officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco to describe his administration’s program to fix the sewers. He said the EPA officials lauded the City plans as ambitious and bold.

 

            “Despite that, they still have concerns that were raised with the past administration that were never really addressed,” Hannemann said.

 

            “I understand their concern, and we’re working as quickly as we can to rectify the problems that have accumulated through the years.  We’ve already had 13 sewage spills since I took office in January. Our Environmental Services workers have done a yeoman’s job, but there’s only so much they can do.”

 

Operation Fix is a general strategy for improving the City’s ability to meet current requirements as well as terms of the 1995 consent decree with the EPA, in which Honolulu agreed to make major improvements over a 20-year time span.

 

As the mayor stated in February’s State of the City speech, the previous administration failed to raise sewer fees since 1994 to underwrite those mandated improvements.

 

Hannemann has already proposed a 25 percent increase in sewer fees for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and 10 percent for each of the following five years, to fund the needed improvements. More than half of his proposed capital improvements budget for next fiscal year -- $241 million – would go toward wastewater treatment work.

 

 He  was accompanied at the EPA meeting by City Environmental Services Director Eric Takamura and Corporation Counsel Carrie Okinaga. All three also met with the California attorneys who are defending the City in a lawsuit over sewers brought by the Sierra Club and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends.

 

That lawsuit involves Honolulu’s waiver or exemption from federal Clean Water Act requirements that wastewater must undergo “secondary treatment” before it is released into the ocean. The City’s Sand Island and Honouliuli wastewater treatment plants have operated for years under a EPA-approved waivers that allow them to perform “primary treatment.”

 

Should then environmental groups prevail on everything they claim in that lawsuit, which is now before the federal courts, the City could face, among other things, fines of over one billion dollars.

 

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting an audit of Honolulu’s wastewater collection system through the years. Results are expected later this year.

 

Hannemann said that in addition to making the best possible use of the City’s professionals, he plans to enlist top local and national experts as consultants in Honolulu’s Operation FIX.

 

OPERATION FIX (Fast, Immediate, eXpedited)

 

A five-point program to repair Honolulu’s wastewater system

 

1.               Develop a strategic action plan

 

a.                Establish the Operation FIX Working Group with representatives from the City Department of Environmental Services, Department of Design and Construction, Department of the Corporation Counsel, Department of Facility Maintenance, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and outside experts in the law, engineering and toxicology.

 

b.               The working group will assess the condition of Honolulu’s wastewater system and City compliance with permit requirements, consent decrees and administrative orders, and will make recommendations to the mayor for capital improvements and related budget decisions.           

 

c.                The working group will evaluate the proposal now before the City Charter Commission to merge wastewater functions into the Board of Water Supply.

 

 

2.               Maximize productivity of capital improvement efforts

 

a.                Implement “design/build” projects to fast-track capital improvements.

 

b.               Identify critical projects and initiate emergency purchasing procurement to execute and complete projects expeditiously under the “design/build” approach.

 

c.                Resolve salary disparity issues to retard the loss of City engineers and workers to the state, federal and private sectors and assess consolidation of wastewater personnel .

 

d.               Complete Kalaheo phase 1 in Kailua ($50 million). Begin actual work on the Beachwalk force main replacement in Waikiki ($30 million); St. Louis Heights main replacement ($20 million); Waimalu sewer rehabilitation ($15 million); Kuliouou sewer rehab ($6.5 million), and expedited replacement of the Niu force main ($10 million).

 

 

3.               Maximize productivity and capability of operations and maintenance

 

a.                Create a single management operations center at Halawa under one supervisor. The current three supervisors (Leeward, Metro, Windward) will report to one chief engineer for better coordination.

 

b.               Expand and update training programs and maintenance procedures, e.g., cleaning and spill response.

 

c.                Upgrade technology to effectively track repair and maintenance projects and their effectiveness.

 

d.               Purchase more efficient cleaning equipment to increase productivity.

 

4.               Recommend a schedule for increased sewer fees

 

As Mayor Mufi Hannemann said in his State of the City address in February, he is proposing increases in monthly sewer fees as follows:

 

FY 2006          25% (from $33/month to $45/month)

FY 2007          10%

FY 2008          10%

FY 2009          10%

FY 2010          10%

FY 2011          10%

 

The increases are necessary for capital improvements,  debt service repayment,  salary adjustments,  filling employee vacancies, defending against the pending Sierra Club lawsuit and threatened enforcement actions and upgrading the workforce and aging infrastructure. The sewer fund will only be used for sewer-related expenses.

 

5.               Create and foster a proactive work environment and public education program.

 

a.                Establish a more open dialogue and relationship with the regulators at the Hawaii Department of Health and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

 

b.               Create a more cooperative and open relationship with Hawaii’s congressional delegation, state officials and the Honolulu City Council.

 

c.                Educate the public about the City’s environmental infrastructure needs.

 

d.               Immediately report spills to public/press, and have a senior manager at the site to answer questions.

 

 

 

                                                      -30-

Contact:

 

    Eric Takamura, director of Environmental Services,

    Carrie Okinaga, Corporation Counsel, 523-4115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, March 31, 2005

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