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(Mon., June 28, 2010)—Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the State Department of Health today announced a proposed comprehensive agreement to end years of litigation over Honolulu’s wastewater system and create a reasonable timetable for improvements and upgrades. The proposed consent decree, which now goes to the City Council for approval, would ensure that progress made under Hannemann’s administration continues into the future.


            “This carefully negotiated agreement will put past disputes behind us and eliminate the regulatory maze of decrees and orders that currently bind the city,” Hannemann said. “It will allow us to move forward and focus on making sure the city’s wastewater system continues to protect the people of Honolulu and our precious environment. When I became mayor, I was determined to deal with this complex and costly problem and not leave it for future mayors, as it had been left to me.”


            When Hannemann was sworn into office in 2005, his administration inherited a wastewater system that had suffered from what the EPA has referred to as “decades of neglect,” and was subject to a maze of decrees and orders. Environmental groups had sued the City the previous year. In addition, the EPA was reviewing the City’s applications to renew special federal waivers that had long exempted the two largest treatment plants from secondary treatment. Sewer fees had not been raised in ten years, and as a consequence, necessary improvements were not made on a timely basis. Moreover, the prior administration had raided the sewer fund to the tune of $119 million to pay for unrelated expenses while sewer pipes and other infrastructure were in urgent need of attention.


            The proposed consent decree is supported by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, and would end the lawsuit the groups filed against the city in 2004. The proposed agreement would also address various issues raised by the EPA about the city’s wastewater collection system and the two largest wastewater treatment plants, at Sand Island and Honouliuli. Upon approval by the Council and the federal court, the proposed agreement would create extended, phased construction schedules for upgrading both plants to a process called “secondary treatment,” and would also include requirements for major wastewater collection system pipes called “force mains,” and for pump stations and gravity sewers.


Reaching the agreement took years of exhaustive effort and dedication by key members of Hannemann’s Cabinet and top city engineers.


            “Together with national experts, they spent countless hours and pored over volumes of data to make sure this consent decree is both technically and fiscally responsible,” Hannemann said. “The support of the City Council, the federal district court, and the Congressional delegation and in particular Senator Daniel Inouye, have also been invaluable. But most of all, I am grateful for the understanding and tolerance of Honolulu’s ratepayers in bearing the costs and inconvenience while we have strived to upgrade the city’s sewers.”


            Hannemann said the proposed consent decree would not affect the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year, but that the agreement would require additional spending as construction proceeds on the extended schedules.


            “With long scheduling horizons and termination of the lawsuits and enforcement actions, we can assure our bond raters and ratepayers that we can prudently plan and finance improvements over time,” Hannemann said.


 The mayor thanks all of the parties, as well as the federal court, for their commitment to the negotiations, and looks forward to Council’s studied and favorable consideration of the proposed agreement.




Media contact: Bill Brennan, Mayor’s Office, 768-6928