Critics call city’s response to sewage spill near Ko Olina unacceptable

Critics say the way the city handled a sewage spill near Ko Olina is disappointing and unacceptable.

The city initially said that more than a thousand gallons of raw sewage spilled when a force main broke last week.

After sources told us the number was considerably higher, we went to the site of the spill where we spotted crews disinfecting the area — six days after the spill. They sprayed about an acre of land contaminated with raw sewage.

We then pressed the city for answers and learned that more than 200,000 gallons had spilled. There was another spill in the same area in April.

Now, we have more questions.

KHON2 spoke with a Honolulu City Council member for that district and the Sierra Club. They are bothered by how often these spills are happening, and how little information is being released to the public.

We tried to get Lori Kahikina, director of the city’s Department of Environmental Services, or anybody from the city to respond to these concerns, but no one wanted to talk to us on camera.

“It’s clear that this is just unacceptable,” said councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents the district. “We’ve had breaks in this region multiple times already and we have to do something to improve maintenance in this area.”

Pine points out residents have been forced to pay higher water and sewage fees to help prevent these problems.

“The city should know by now where all of our aging systems are, and if they’re going to be taxing residents more through sewage fees, then we should have the results that we’re being taxed for,” she said.

The Sierra Club adds that the city should be more upfront when these spills occur.

“There’s a big difference between a thousand gallons and 200,000 gallons, so I think that discrepancy needs to be explained, and it needs to be made aware more frequently and of course more freely,” said Jodi Malinoski, Oahu group coordinator for The Sierra Club of Hawaii.

After yet another request to the city, we received an email from a spokesman saying no one was available Wednesday. We got another email that gave a timeline of the spill — a trouble call was received at 9:30 a.m., crews arrived at 10 a.m., the contractor arrived late afternoon and work was done the next day.

But we wanted to know more. When did the spill start? When was it stopped? How was it detected? As to the 200,000 gallons, is that how much actually spilled or just the amount collected?

We also wanted to know when the city knew that it was 200,000 and when they were planning to tell the public. Late Wednesday afternoon, still no interview, but yet another email. The city says the 200,000 amount was known on Dec. 1, the day after the spill. But since it did not reach the waterways and was confined to an unimproved area, the public was in no danger.

So in other words, if we don’t ask, the public will never know.

As for the initial information of more than a thousand gallons, the city calls it a trigger for issuing a press release until other data are analyzed.

As for the other questions we posed, we’re told those will be answered when the final spill report is filed with the state Department of Health.

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