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(Thurs., July 15, 2010)—Mayor Mufi Hannemann today thanked the Honolulu City Council for unanimously approving a consent decree requiring upgrades to Oahu’s wastewater collection system and two largest treatment plants.


            “This settlement was possible because the other parties agreed to meet our terms for a reasonable and extended timetable that was in the best interest of the city,” Hannemann said. “The Council recognized that this was the best deal we would get, because it firmly adheres to our priorities and meets our requirements. This consent decree will ensure that preventing sewage spills by making timely repairs to our wastewater collection system—the network of pipes that run from our homes to our wastewater treatment plants—will remain the top priority.”


            Much of the work planned for the collection system was already required under earlier agreements that are superseded by the consent decree, so that portion does not represent additional costs to ratepayers. The city is already in the midst of a major sewer repair and upgrade program that Hannemann launched prior to such requirements, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged this effort as an indicator of the city’s commitment to rectifying decades of neglect.


            The estimated cost of upgrades to the treatment plants is $1.155 billion: $480 million for the Honouliuli plant and $675 million for the Sand Island plant.


            Officials anticipate that modest, steady rate increases of 3 to 5 percent per year in current dollars will be required to finance the work covered by the consent decree, but noted that future increases would already have been required to pay for work that would have been necessary even without the agreement.


            Hannemann noted that the timeframe granted under the consent decree is extraordinary, compared to shorter schedules EPA imposed on other cities, in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 years, which would have required rate increases of 6 to 14 percent in current dollars during the construction years.


            “Without this reasonable time frame, this agreement would not have been possible, and we’re grateful that all parties were able to come together for a reasonable solution,” Hannemann said.


            If approved by the federal court, the consent decree would settle a 2004 lawsuit filed against the city by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, while also addressing various issues raised by the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


            Hannemann emphasized that the city had long fought for such a “global” settlement to all wastewater disputes, rather than a piecemeal approach.


            The agreement allows 10 years for completion of work on the collection system, 14 years for the Honouliuli plant, and up to 28 years for the Sand Island plant.


            Hannemann likened the extended schedule allowed by the consent decree to buying a home via a 30-year mortgage with lower payments, as opposed to a 10-year mortgage with higher payments.


Hannemann said officials would seek to minimize the impact on ratepayers by seeking state and federal assistance, and that a study will recommend whether adjustments can be made for low- and fixed-income households.




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