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Schatz wants review after molasses spill

By Oskar Garcia

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:40 p.m. HST, Sep 16, 2013

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz says more than just a pipe failed when 1,400 tons of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor last week, killing thousands of fish.

Schatz says it's clear lawmakers have to look at how the system run by shipping company Matson Navigation Co. is regulated by federal and state officials.

"I don't think there's any doubt that that's one of the things that we're going to have to take a look at," Schatz told The Associated Press when asked about Matson's lack of a spill plan and oversight of the underground pipes connected to Hawaii's waters.

Some 233,000 gallons of molasses spilled from a leaky pipe Sept. 9 as the sugary substance was moved from storage tanks to ships sailing to California. It happened in an industrial area west of downtown where Matson loads molasses and other goods for shipping. The company has said it doesn't normally use that section of pipe.

State and federal agencies appear to have little role in maintaining the underground pipes, state officials said last week.

"It's clear that this wasn't just a mechanical failure of a pipe but also a systems failure," Schatz said.

A U.S. Coast Guard unit that specializes in responding to hazardous spills is joining the effort to clean up and assess the damage.

Vic Angoco, senior vice president for Matson's Pacific operations, has said the company takes responsibility but had no contingency plan for the possibility of the spill, despite moving molasses from the harbor for about 30 years.

State officials have said they don't believe Matson was required to have any such plans, despite having plans for spills of oil or other hazardous chemicals.

Thousands of fish have died in the spill, most likely from a lack of oxygen. But the full extent of the damage and how long it might last are unclear.

"All of us who care about the south shore of Oahu are sick about this," Schatz said. "But we don't really know the status of the ecosystem and we won't until we have scientists in the water collecting and analyzing data."

The Coast Guard's Pacific Strike team includes more than 70 people to help assess the situation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also have responded, along with state agencies.

State and company officials said last week that the exact cause of the spill is still under investigation. Gary Gill, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Health, said the leak happened when molasses seeped into a section of pipe that was supposed to be sealed off.

Schatz said officials are focusing on assessing and containing damages right now, and can focus on how things went wrong afterward.

"That's going to take research and resources, and this is a current problem in the ocean right now," Schatz said. "We have to have all hands on deck in mitigating it while we still can."

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DAGR81 wrote:
Grandstanding. This is a local issue better handled by local officials. Shatz should do what he was sent to Washington to do.
on September 16,2013 | 12:30PM
loquaciousone wrote:
Yes our Senior Senator needs to make sure our Junior Senator wakes up in time to make the coffee for the Senior Senators.
on September 16,2013 | 12:31PM
serious wrote:
Agree, he will learn, Matson funds the Democrats in this State. try rescinding the Jones Act and see what Matson says $$$$$$.
on September 16,2013 | 01:11PM
itoboy wrote:
DAGR81 - "better handled by local officials"? So the EPA, NOAA, and Coast Guard should pack up and leave? And we should send back the federal money that Schatz got to help with this disaster? Get real. If you apply this logic, then the Feds should have sat back and watched in 2010 when BP flooded the Gulf of Mexico with oil. Environmental protection is definitely a federal issue, not just a state issue. Just because Schatz has chosen to make environmental issues a priority, which helped him to become Chair of the Subcommittee on Water and Power, it doesn't mean he is grandstanding when he calls for an investigation into how we can better avoid these kinds of environmental disasters.
on September 16,2013 | 01:35PM
DAGR81 wrote:
Yes, schatz does have role in this, however, he is grandstanding by overstepping his bounds and expanding his role in matters best left to our local officials.
on September 16,2013 | 09:23PM
rayhawaii wrote:
Going to be allot of blame on this one or that. The thing is when you are pumping something from here to there, there is always someone on each end checking to see if there is a flow and checking pressure gages. Looks like to me someone started the pump and the other end never got the word pump started or he would of made sure there was a flow. Probably a valve was shut and there goes the line under pressure. So next thing is someone will blame the guy doing the PM's every week.
on September 16,2013 | 12:57PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Brian is in the government biz. More regulations, more committees, more fact finding junkets...it's all part of the game. Never let a crisis go unexploited.
on September 16,2013 | 02:52PM
BigOpu wrote:
Yeah...then what? What are you going to do with this review now that you throw your name out there demanding a review. Nothing! State already exposed the fact that there was no emergency plan. We know that the pipes are old and were not monitored or maintained. What new issue will this review uncover? The Gov is probably pissed that he didn't get to demand a review first. Hell, did our Mayor demand a review yet?
on September 16,2013 | 04:16PM
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