CORRECTED 3/8/2012 6 p.m.

At his 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Peter Carlisle updated residents on the massive sewage deal the city signed in 2010 to settle pending litigation over Honolulu’s deficient wastewater system.

Here’s what he said, according to the prepared text:

Since 2010, the wastewater collection system has been governed by a global consent decree that is ninety nine pages long.

There are one hundred and twenty two projects currently underway and over a hundred million dollars in collection system construction has been completed in the last year alone. The city is on schedule, in some areas ahead of schedule, and we are in compliance with the consent decree. In January, the parties met with the federal judge for the first yearly review hearing. I am happy to report no issues or concerns were raised.

This rehabilitation work is paid for from wastewater user fees, not property tax dollars, which makes wastewater user fee increases necessary. Under the global consent decree, both the project and the payments will be stretched out for twenty five years. That allows us to keep rate increases relatively low.

UPDATED The agreement will cost the city billions of dollars1 over 25 years, and will require things like:

  • The repair or replacement of 144 miles of gravity sewers in 10 years, including at least 63 miles in the first three years.
  • The construction of back-up force mains
  • Updated flow projections, including during rainy weather
  • The development of standardized training at pump stations
  • The creation of site-specific contingency plans for potential spills
  • Improved maintenance and oversight across the board

For today, let’s focus on Carlisle’s claim that “no issues or concerns were raised” in January by other parties to the consent decree — the Environmental Protection Agency, Hawaii Department of Health, Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends.

EPA regional spokesman Dean Higuchi conferred with the agency’s representatives at the January meeting with the judge, and said the feds agree with Carlisle’s assessment.

“No significant issues or problems were identified at the status conference in January, and work will continue on the CD,” Higuchi told Civil Beat.

Hawaii Department of Health Deputy Director Gary Gill also conferred with attorneys, and also agreed with the mayor’s statement.

“It is accurate that the state did not raise any outstanding issues, and it’s fair to say that things are on track regarding the Sand Island consent decree,” Gill said in a weekend voicemail left for Civil Beat. “That does not mean necessarily that we think everything is going perfectly, but we did not raise, as the state, any outstanding issues or concerns at the January consultation.”

Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter Director Robert Harris struck a similar cautious tone.

“Are they off track? No, plainly not,” he told Civil Beat. “But a lot of the stuff was put out over time. … Whether they’re still on track five years from now is probably a more important question.”

Harris said some parts of the agreement have been tweaked, but that none of the changes would qualify as “noteworthy.”

Messages left for Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, the other parties to the consent decree, were not returned.

Bottom line: The three main parties to the city’s sewer consent decree agree that Honolulu is on track — so far. That makes Mayor Carlisle’s statement true.

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