Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration is having second thoughts about relocating 100 homeless people to a vacant lot on Sand Island.

The costs of appeasing state concerns about potential soil contamination may not be worth it, Ember Shinn, the city’s managing director, said Friday.

The state Department of Health is requiring the city to pay to have the soil tested for possible contamination from substances such as lead, at an estimated cost of $20,000 to $25,000.

Sand Island site where City and County of Honolulu is proposing Housing First Transition Center. September 9, 2104.

The Sand Island site where the City of Honolulu is proposing a Housing First Transition Center.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Further, the city had hoped to cover a portion of the 5-acre lot with recycled asphalt to contain any contamination, but the Health Department is now concerned about the chemical composition of the asphalt and is pushing for the area to be covered with crushed coral instead, said Shinn. That could cost another $40,000.

“We are kind of staggered at that expense,” she said. “And of course nobody can sleep on crushed coral, so we have to put some sort of pallet or other surface over that to make it more comfortable.”

Those extra expenses increase the overall project cost to about $1 million — money that may be better spent elsewhere, said Shinn.

Asked if the city was looking to scrap the project entirely, Shinn said, “I can’t say that isn’t a consideration. I cannot say that we aren’t worried about that because the price tag is almost a million dollars now and we think that we can do a lot more with $1 million.”

“We are looking at all of the different options to spend $1 million now,” she added.

Shinn also noted that the safety concerns have delayed creating the encampment. The city hoped to have it operational by the end of this month and equipped with portable toilets and showers, lockers and fans. The homeless would be expected to bring their own tents.

EPA reports suggest the site may be at risk of contamination from a host of chemicals and metals left over from a former ash dump in the vicinity. Those substances could include lead, arsenic, dieldrin, pesticides and PCBs. The exact history of the plot is unknown, according to health officials.

The city has been planning to fund the Sand Island camp with some of the $3 million in Housing First funds approved by the City Council earlier this year as part of the 2015 fiscal year budget.

About the Author