The overflow of untreated sewage will head to Honouliuli treatment plant in Ewa starting next month, sparing Waianae and Kailua — for now.

The new plan to take pressure off of the Synagro digester at Sand Island was revealed at a Wednesday morning press conference. Mayor Peter Carlisle said the city will take no more than one 5,000-gallon truckload to Honouliuli each day for no more than 30 days to test the viability of hauling sludge while officials mull options for a long-term fix.

In the absence of a second digester “egg,” the city is left with few options, Carlisle said. A moratorium on new construction and new sewer hookups “would unnecessarily harm the economy of the state and of the county” during a tough time, he said. Allowing Sand Island to run at over its design capacity would “not be a safe thing to do.”

“We can truck wastewater without jeopardizing the economy or the environment,” he said. “I want to stress that we do not want to do either of these things, but to do nothing would be irresponsible. We do not need another wastewater crisis.”

Carlisle also said the city has started the ball rolling on an environmental assessment for heavier hauling operations that might be needed down the road. State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Windward Oahu Republican, had called for that review. Carlisle’s acquiescence is a step back from earlier administration statements that such a study wouldn’t be necessary.

The new plan is a significant change from earlier discussions — treatment plants in both Kailua and Waianae were ruled out for the test runs, though they’re still on the table and will be included in the environmental review. City Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger said the worst-case scenario is that the city would haul six truckloads each day from Sand Island at a rough annual cost of $1.8 million.

Carlisle also used the opportunity with a captive media audience to poke the Honolulu City Council for removing $26 million from his
proposed capital budget that he says would have helped avoid this scenario.

“It’s very tempting for me to say something smart-aleck like they have put their foot in a bucket of … sludge,” Carlisle said, pausing dramatically to allow reporters to fill in the blank with their own four-letter word.

Even the timing of Carlisle’s August public information meeting about the city’s sewage plan seems designed as a dig at the council. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 1, at Mission Memorial Auditorium — two days before the council’s Public Works Committee is planning to hold its own briefing on the issue.

Public Works Committee Chair Stanley Chang told Civil Beat after the press conference that he had no problem with the administration’s meeting jumping ahead of his on the calendar: “The more opportunities for public input, the better.”

Steinberger, standing off to Carlisle’s left for the duration of the news conference, took to the podium to say that the $26 million the council nixed would have gone not only toward building a second “egg” at Sand Island but also would have funded an interim lime stabilization system that would have taken pressure off of the first egg while the second one was being built for up to 24 months.

The message didn’t get through to the city council.

That was “never, ever explained to the council during any of the City Council meetings,” said Council Vice Chair Ikaika Anderson.

“What would the administration have done in the next two years, while that digester was being built, with all this sewage sludge? That’s
what the mayor is failing to tell us: What was he going to do with all of this in the meantime?” Anderson asked reporters shortly after the mayor’s press conference broke up. “What’s the interim plan for all this existing sewage that needs to be dealt with. And to the best of my knowledge, there is no interim plan, as we’re seeing now, other than trucking.”

Both sides seem to acknowledge that the budget isn’t going to be reopened and that some stopgap solution is needed, and that some
measure of collaboration will be required.

“(People) don’t want the mayor blaming the council, they don’t want the council blaming the mayor, and I am all for that,” Anderson said.
“I’d like to tell the mayor: Now’s the time to sit down and let’s solve the issue at hand. No more blame games, don’t point any fingers at anybody, come to that meeting on Aug. 3. Let’s sit down and let’s come to a solution. That’s what the city needs and I think that’s what we were elected to do.”

But in a moment that might give a glimpse into the state of council-administration relations, Carlisle descended the Honolulu Hale steps while Anderson spoke to reporters on the second-floor landing. Though they were within a few feet of each other, Anderson and Carlisle did not acknowledge each other’s presence directly. The conversation, at least for today, will happen through the media.

Listen to the audio of the mayor’s press conference:

– Steinberger press conference July 20
by Michael Levine

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