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Blame has no place in plan for city's sewage problem

By David Shapiro

LAST UPDATED: 8:46 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Our city leaders don't seem to be getting it that it's simply unacceptable to Oahuans to have raw sewer sludge trucked all over the island because the city failed to plan for the Sand Island treatment plant reaching capacity.

But it appears likely to happen anyway as the Carlisle administration and City Council seem more interested in pointing fingers of blame than finding reasonable alternatives.

Instead of urgent collaboration to end their stalemate, we get dueling public forums next week for each side to put its spin on whose fault it is.

It's difficult to understand how the city could have let the Sand Island plant reach its capacity without having an orderly expansion plan in place.

After the Council recently rejected the administration's request for $26 million for a second digester to treat sewage at Sand Island, demanding that the administration first study other technologies,Mayor Peter Carlisle said he'd have no choice but to start shipping up to six truckloads of raw sewage sludge a day to plants in Ewa Beach, Kailua and Waianae.

The only other option, the administration said, would be to shut down new construction from Hawaii Kai to Halawa to reduce pressure on the Sand Island plant.

In the face of growing public criticism, he backed off a bit and said sludge trucks would initially go only to Honouliuli, with possible runs to Waianae and Kailua later. He also promised an environmental assessment.

The Council, meantime, is taking an unusual interest in specific alternate technologies, with some members pushing for pilot projects of these systems to handle the immediate Sand Island overflow.

It's unfair to blame Carlisle for the lack of long-term planning; he was elected only last year and asked in his first budget for the $26 million to expand Sand Island and pay for a stabilization system to handle the overflow in the interim.

Five of the nine Council members are new this year and also bear no responsibility for the failure to have a workable expansion plan for Sand Island in place before the plant hit capacity. Obviously, it was previous administrations and lawmakers that dropped the ball.

But wherever the blame falls for bringing us to the crisis point, this mayor and Council own the problem now and share responsibility for what happens next.

They need to move past the posturing and finger-pointing and agree on an interim solution that doesn't involve trucking foul sludge into our communities or shutting down construction in Oahu's urban core.

There's going to be no blaming the other guy and walking away from accountability. If those sludge trucks roll, they'll be ugly, stinking symbols of municipal incompetence, and the stench will stick to the mayor and Council alike.

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