Question: When driving around the city, you will notice many storm drains blocked with sandbags or similar material. This impairs the drainage of water in heavy rain. I was told by the city that the drains were blocked at the direction of the federal Environmental Protection Agency because of possible contamination of our water system by runoff.
I can see this happening where there is construction, but, in many areas, there is no construction. It appears there is no coordination between the city and federal governments. Could you find out who’s responsible and get our drains cleared?
Answer: There’s no one agency that oversees the removal of those storm drain protectors — known in the construction industry as "gutter buddies" — after a project is completed or before a pending rainstorm.
Those gutter barriers are meant to capture silt and small debris that may result from construction activities in areas with a storm drain system, said Tim Steinberger, director of the city Department of Environmental Services.
They may be required in a private development (such as construction of the new Safeway Store at Beretania and Piikoi streets) or in a public works project, such as road resurfacing, he said.
Regarding the role of the EPA, it’s not true that the agency specifically requires storm drain barriers, said Tyler Sugihara, chief of the city Department of Facility Maintenance’s Road Maintenance Division.
The city is required to obtain storm drain permits from both the EPA and state Department of Health, because the city’s storm drains discharge into the ocean.
"As part of that (requirement), the city has to implement ‘best management practices’ for construction activity," Sugihara explained.
When the city Department of Planning and Permitting issues permits for construction work, one of the requirements is that there be barriers to prevent construction debris from going into the storm drains.
Gutter buddies are considered to be a "best management practice" for minimizing possible contaminants from a construction area, Steinberger said.
Another requirement is that storm drain barriers be removed once work is completed. But the problem, at times, Sugihara said, is that there may be landscaping work after the main project is completed, requiring the drain protectors to be left in place until the grass or plants grow out.
But, by then, the Planning and Permitting inspector has already completed his inspection; it’s up to the contractor to follow through and remove the barriers, he said.
The city Department of Design and Construction also is involved in road work, while the semi-autonomous Board of Water Supply has its own contractors; both agencies are responsible for monitoring the use of the gutter buddies.
(Another issue: gutter buddies "aren’t really serving a real good purpose unless the contractor takes away the sediment that builds up around" them, Sugihara noted.)
TOMORROW: Whom to contact about problem gutter buddies.
To the men in a white crew cab truck that climbed the median to turn left from North Vineyard Boulevard onto Palama Street going toward Tamashiro Market, running a red light and passing drivers waiting in the left lane. I was one of those drivers, with my 86-year-old mother in the passenger seat. Shame on you for scaring us by your reckless actions. — Ms. B.
Write to "Kokua Line" at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.