The city’s callous dumping of hundreds of truckloads of concrete slabs into a channeled stream area near the Waianae Coast is puzzling and could be expensive for taxpayers. Just as important are the serious questions it raises on city workings and accountability. The city administration takes the position that it should have applied for a state permit before dumping the concrete, but it ought to be obvious by now that such an application would have been rejected in laughter.
The state Department of Health has fined the city more than $1.7 million, and federal penalties could be forthcoming. The federal Clean Water Act prohibits placement of dredged or fill materials into wetlands, rivers, streams and other waters without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For more than a year, from February 2008 to May 2009, the city dumped 255 truckloads of concrete estimated at 1,600 cubic yards and weighing 3,200 tons at Mailiili Stream about two miles mauka of Farrington Highway near Maili. State and federal investigations were prompted by requests from EnviroWatch Inc., which had received complaints by city employees.
Jeoffrey Cudiamat, the city’s director of facilities maintenance, told City Council members a year ago that the stream "was not used as a dump site." Instead, he said, the slabs were used to "create a temporary path to provide maintenance to remove debris" in the area. Really.
City spokesman Bill Brennan has added that the slabs were used to stabilize the stream’s banks "so that appropriate heavy equipment could safely operate and remove vegetation overgrowth."
Since then, he told the Star-Advertiser’s Gary T. Kubota, city workers have received environmental permit training so they won’t make the same mistake again—the mistake being that they neglected to apply for a permit for dumping the slabs onto the stream’s banks.
EnviroWatch’s Carroll Cox sees it with more appropriate vigilance: "This was probably one of the most glaring examples of disrespect for the environment that we’ve come to expect of the city."
The city has begun a remediation and restoration project for the stream and plans to start removing the concrete in the fall, but it will need to be careful. State biologists have seen 13 endangered Hawaiian stilts within the stream’s parameters, as well as other birds, including the endangered Hawaiian ducks.
The city has asked for a hearing on the state fines; that is set for next month. Troubling questions remain, however, on how such city conduct was allowed, and how it was approved. "More stringent internal controls and reporting procedures have been implemented," Brennan contends.
Asked whether any city workers had been disciplined, he responded that an internal investigation is continuing.
More than a year after the fact? As things stand, taxpayers are on the hook for $1.7 million in fines for work that has been weakly and poorly excused—not to mention the manpower hours now required to remove the slabs and restore the stream. More than 3,200 tons of concrete dumped over a 15-month period into a stream used by endangered Hawaiian stilts and ducks is not a casual endeavor. The internal investigation needs to wrap up now and do better to publicly explain what occurred, and how.