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Leaks were detected twice before massive harbor molasses spill

By Sarah Zoellick

LAST UPDATED: 4:39 p.m. HST, Sep 20, 2013

State Department of Transportation workers had seen molasses leaking from the faulty pipe underneath Honolulu Harbor's Pier 51 on two occasions prior to last week's spewing of 1,400 tons of sticky liquid that caused the massive kill-off of fish and coral in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon.

Leaks were spotted in July 2012 and May of this year -- and while Matson Navigation Co. was notified about the 2012 leak there was no such notification in May, DOT deputy director of the Harbor Division Randy Grune said in a news conference today. 

In a letter released today dated July 31, 2012, the state notified Matson that on July 17, 2012, "a steady drip of molasses was observed from a hole at the elbow of the pipeline" under Pier 51B between the 900 and 950 foot markers -- the same pipe that leaked 233,000 gallons of the sugary substance into the harbor.

The leak was seen again by state workers in May, but no letter was sent because of a mishap in communication within DOT, Grune said. 

A Matson crew checked on the pipe twice after receiving the 2012 letter, but did't find a leak,  Vic Angoco, Matson's senior vice president for Pacific operations said. He added that the company contacted the state to make sure it was looking in the right spot.

Grune said the DOT did not disclose that a letter had been sent to Matson about the leaking pipe because he at first thought it might be protected by attorney-client privilege. 

"Please be aware that what was observed may be violations of the Hawaii revised Statutes ... which states that 'no person, including any public body, shall discharge any water pollutant into state waters, or cause of allow any water pollutant to enter state water," the letter states.

The state workers that reported the leaks were inspecting storm water runoff in the harbor and only happened upon the leaky pipe, Grune said. 

Matson reiterated today that it did not have a spill plan in place for molasses because molasses is not a regulated substance.

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