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Firm fined over Clean Water Act allegations

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  • Two fishermen try their luck in the Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor with the Marisco small dry dock in the background. (Star-Advertiser archive/Aug. 9

A Kalaeloa business has agreed to pay $710,000 in fines for alleged water pollution violations at Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor in what the Environmental Protection Agency calls the nation’s largest Clean Water Act civil penalty against a ship repair facility.

The agreement came in a consent decree, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Hawaii, that alleges that the business, Marisco Ltd., violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants in excess of its permits, discharging pollutants without obtaining a permit, and failing to conduct water samples, keep records, comply with best management practices and apply for permits in a timely manner.

The settlement requires Marisco to allow state or federal investigators onto the property to monitor activities and to submit monthly reports to officials until the decree expires in five years. The decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval.

Marisco is a ship repair facility that services government and commercial marine vessels.

Besides the fine, the settlement requires Marisco to use clean water to wash its dry dock after paint removal and sandblasting, and then collect the wash water to treat it.

The EPA said the requirements will ensure Marisco’s discharges remain under the Clean Water Act’s effluent limit, particularly for zinc and copper, and should result in an annual reduction of about 295 pounds of copper, 94 pounds of zinc, 14 pounds of solids and eight pounds of oil and grease being released into the harbor.

Stephen Hinton, vice president for environmental affairs at Marisco, said the company is a leader in environmental stewardship and compliance.

"It’s our mission to raise the bar on requirements," he said.

Hinton said the allegations against the company were weighted heavily toward administrative shortcomings, such as keeping pollution permits updated and filing monthly reports, rather than pollutants released into the environment.

A former employee in charge of the company’s environmental permits let a pollution permit lapse and failed to file monthly pollution reports for a year and a half, leading to some of the administrative shortcomings, Hinton said.

However, during an investigation in 2008, EPA and state Department of Health officials saw leaking equipment stored on Marisco’s property, workers washing down work areas directly into the harbor, and material from sandblasting operations being discharged into the harbor, the EPA said in a release.

Hinton, who wasn’t working for the company at the time, said those are currently not operational procedures.

"We’re gravely concerned about our potential impact in Kalaeloa’s harbor," Hinton said. "It’s the state’s property and by extension the community’s property."

In 2009 the EPA ordered the company to reduce the copper and zinc from ship paint being discharged into the ocean.

Hinton said the company did reduce the level of pollution but struggled to go below the legal limit because there wasn’t a standard for obtaining samples. The company continued to operate after taking sediment and water quality analysis tests that showed no negative impact on the environment.

Federal officials still ordered the company to reduce its discharges, and Marisco eliminated the pollution by implementing a new procedure, requiring the dock be washed down three times before being lowered into the ocean. Hinton said the dock is lowered into the harbor about twice a month.

The wash water is collected to be filtered by a machine that the company developed to remove the pollution. The clean water is returned to the ocean.

"We’ve recognized our role and our obligation to maintain our site out there," Hinton said.

Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a statement that the agency’s actions will help improve Oahu’s water quality by making Marisco "redesign its operations to comply with federal law."

"To protect Hawaii’s precious coastal waters and coral reefs, ship repair facilities must have pollution controls in place," he said.

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