HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined Hawaii County $28,500 for failing to develop a plan to replace large capacity cesspools in Kau with a wastewater treatment plant.
The EPA required all large capacity cesspools to close by 2005 but a number have remained in use around Hawaii since.
In 2017, Hawaii County agreed with the agency to close five cesspools serving Pahala and Naalehu and replace them with wastewater treatment facilities approved by the state Department of Health, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporte d.
That consent order required the county have a sewage treatment plant design approved by the state by July 24.
The agreement called for 272 properties now served by the cesspools to be connected to new county wastewater treatment facilities. Another 95 properties not served by the cesspools would be given the option to connect to the treatment facilities.
Amy Miller, the EPA's Pacific Southwest regional director of enforcement and compliance, said the county had failed to meet its legal commitment to modernize wastewater infrastructure.
“EPA expects the county to expeditiously construct the Pahala wastewater treatment facility to protect drinking water and coastal resources on the Big Island,” she said in a statement.
Mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement his administration has been working with the EPA to close the cesspools. But he said a revaluation of the project and the April discovery of a more extensive lava tube system than anticipated prompted the county to study the issue further.
“We understood then that the decision would result in fines, and we chose to move forward as it is in the community’s best interest to create permanent solutions rather than temporary fixes,” he said.
Environmental Management Director Ramzi Mansour told the county’s Environmental Management Commission in January he was meeting with consultants for the $130 million project and was looking for a less expensive solution that would satisfy EPA and state Department of Health requirements.
Mansour said the project also would require about $400,000 per home to connect to the sewer system.