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State fines city $1.7M for concrete in water

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    EnviroWatch founder Carroll Cox provided this image of Mailiili Stream, showing concrete debris left there by city workers. The city says the slabs were needed to stabilize the stream’s banks so heavy equipment could be used to remove vegetation.

The city has been fined more than $1.7 million by the state Department of Health for unloading hundreds of truckloads of concrete slabs into a West Oahu stream area frequented by endangered Hawaiian birds.

"The department considers it a serious violation," said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Okubo said the city’s Department of Facility Maintenance’s road division was cited 257 times for discharging 257 truckloads of concrete and debris without a permit or variance. The truckloads were placed in Mailiili Stream from Feb. 2, 2008, to May 9, 2009.

Okubo said the notice of the fines was issued on Wednesday and the city is requesting a hearing, tentatively scheduled for August.

City spokesman Bill Brennan said the placement of the concrete slabs on the banks of the channel was not illegal dumping.

"The city workers involved were using the concrete slabs to stabilize the banks of the channel so that appropriate heavy equipment could safety operate and remove vegetation overgrowth," Brennan said.

Workers were unaware that environmental permits were needed for placing concrete on the banks of the channel, he said.

He said workers have since received environmental permit training, which will help them identify similar situations in the future.

"Additionally, more stringent internal controls and reporting procedures have been implemented," Brennan said.

Asked whether any city employees have been disciplined, Brennan said an internal investigation is continuing.

The unloading of concrete from various city projects occurred in the stream channel about two miles mauka of Farrington Highway in an area frequented by endangered Hawaiian stilts.

The investigations were prompted in June 2009 by requests from the group EnviroWatch Inc., whose founder, Carroll Cox, said he received a complaint from city workers.

A field investigation by state biologists observed 13 Hawaiian stilts within the channeled stream and a night heron in the concrete rubble area on June 15, 2009, and subsequent observations, and found other birds, including endangered Hawaiian ducks.

"I’m ecstatic," said Cox. "It was about time that this fine was levied. This was probably one of the most glaring examples of disrespect for the environment that we’ve come to expect of the city.

"I applaud the state for taking this step," he said. "Ultimately it’s the taxpayers who suffer from all of this — the illegal dumping, the poor management on the part of the city, and this fine. My one concern is that no one in the process will be held personally responsible. In that sense it’s business as usual."

The city has begun a remediation and restoration project for the stream and anticipates starting the removal of concrete in the fall.

The project, expected to be completed in March, will involve the use of machines and manual labor to lift the concrete from the streams.

City officials plan to unload the material at a landfill operated by PVT Land Co. on Lualualei Naval Road.

The material will be removed in two phases to make sure at least 55 percent of the channel width remains for uninterrupted stream flow during the work, according to the city’s Mailiili Stream Removal and Restoration Plan.

During the work, sandbags are to be placed to prevent runoff in the work area from entering the channel, and the city will plant native and introduced plants to stabilize the channel bed.

Brennan said the city has not determined the cost of the concrete removal. The outcome of the environmental assessment process could have an impact on the restoration plan.

Star-Advertiser reporter Michael Tsai contributed to this report.


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