The Hawaii health department has ordered the Navy to pay a $8.7 million fine after it identified hundreds of violations at its wastewater treatment plant that tainted the coastal water near Pearl Harbor with fecal bacteria, regulators announced on Tuesday.

During a July inspection, officials found there were “repeated discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage to state waters” due to a “myriad of deficiencies” in operations and maintenance at the military’s wastewater treatment plant, the Department of Health said in a press release.

Aerial view of the Honolulu airport and Pearl Harbor
The NAVFAC Hawaii Wastewater Treatment Plant is located at the mouth of Pearl Harbor, near the Honolulu airport. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2022

The facility is run by the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, or NAVFAC.

DOH imposed a penalty of $8,776,250 based on 766 counts of discharging pollutants above permit limits, 17 counts involving the bypassing of water filters, and 212 counts of operational and maintenance failures.

The health department said it is ordering corrective actions including repairs to the facility’s ultraviolet disinfection system. The Navy will also have to conduct a structural integrity assessment of certain equipment and a root cause analysis for recent pump failures.

“The Navy’s failure to properly operate and maintain this wastewater treatment plant led to the pollution of state waters,” Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho said in a statement.

“We are taking action to protect our state’s water resources and to hold the Navy accountable to make critical repairs and prevent a potential catastrophic failure of the facility.”

The Navy may contest the notice of violation within 20 days.

Navy Region Hawaii spokesman Mike Andrews said in an emailed statement that the Navy’s wastewater treatment plan is still in operation and is undergoing improvements. In accordance with its permit, the Navy will continue to sample effluent and share the results with DOH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In June 2021, the Navy and EPA signed a Federal Facilities Compliance Agreement to address problems with the plant and commit to 21 action items and timelines, Andrews said. According to him, the Navy is on track to meet its obligations under that agreement, some of which may also address requirements of the new DOH violation order.

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