Birds block sewage plant upgrades


HILO — The presence of endangered Hawaiian stilts and coots is delaying a $12 million upgrade to the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The county must work around the nesting schedule of the birds, Dora Beck, acting director of the county Department of Environmental Management, told the Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday.

Both waterfowl are endangered species, with counts by Ducks Unlimited and the Hawaii Department of Forestry and Wildlife in the late 1990s showing only 130 stilts and 196 coots on the Big Island, primarily in West Hawaii.

Beck said her staff met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel in mid-February to discuss their concerns about the project. The county is now awaiting a determination on a schedule and mitigation plan from the federal agency, she said. Phone messages left with the agency were not returned Wednesday.

“Worst case, this could result in some delays,” Beck said. “Hopefully whatever they propose is not too ridiculous.”

The county had originally planned to start the project in the second quarter of this year. The County Council in February unanimously approved a $12 million bond authorization and authorized Mayor Billy Kenoi to work with the Department of Health for a State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund loan to get the project moving.

The delay means the upgrade won’t go out to bid until the third quarter of the year at the earliest. Construction is anticipated to begin in the last quarter of this year or early 2014, Beck said.

The plant’s aeration upgrade project will restore the facility’s treatment capacity to its intended 5.1 million gallons per day, ensure compliance with an existing variance allowing the discharge of suspended solids, allow future upgrades to provide water that can be used for irrigation in public areas and reduce electricity costs, according to DEM.

That will help accommodate future increased discharge at the facility prompted by closures of cesspools.

The $42 million wastewater treatment plant, located makai of Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Hale Makai Place, opened in mid-1993. Original plans called for effluent to be treated there and reused for irrigating the area.

Those plans are still in the works, with effluent planned to be used at some point in the future at businesses located along the highway, Beck said.

Commission Chairwoman Anne Lee praised Beck and the department for their work on wastewater issues.

Lee said the County Council seemed very supportive of wastewater projects and she predicted the projects will be a priority in the coming year.