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Keehi Lagoon closed because of molasses spill

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    A sign posted by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources warns people to stay out of the water at Keehi Lagoon.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed Keehi Lagoon to commercial and recreational ocean activities — including fishing and canoe paddling — for public safety concerns tied to Monday’s 233,000-gallon molasses spill in nearby Honolulu Harbor. 

In a news release issued this evening, DLNR chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. said:  “We are asking the public’s cooperation to keep out these waters for their well being as conditions are unsafe for public activity due to risks of attracting ocean predators, as well as the possibility for contamination due to decayed marine life and bacteria.” 

Aila added, “We are working with the Department of Health to post warning signs along the shores of Keehi Lagoon, small boat harbor and west side of Sand Island nearest Keehi channel. Our officers will also patrol the area to warn the public to remain out of these waters until water conditions are safe again.” 

The closure affect two permitted commercial thrillcraft (jet ski) operations in Keehi Lagoon, Aloha Jetski and Diamond Head Parasails and Water Sports. These companies will not be able to continue renting jetskis to clients to use in the lagoon jetski riding area.  DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is also restricting any recreational use of thrill craft in Keehi Lagoon and the designated riding area off the reef runway.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is dispatching two coordinators to assist the state in its response to the spill that killed thousands of fish and marine life in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon.

Sen. Brian Schatz said today that the experts in spill response could recommend a technique known as “air curtains” to protect particularly sensitive affected areas. 

This technique uses long tubes to oxygenate water and help disperse and break down contaminants, said Schatz in a news release.

The Hawaii senator added that techniques used on oil spills such as floating booms and skimming to contain the liquid are ineffective. 

“We are also in touch with the governor and his staff, and will work with them to ensure that all appropriate federal resources and expertise are focused on this spill. Through coordination, we can help to minimize damage to our natural resources, marine life, and businesses,” Schatz said. 

“This is a serious situation, and it requires a coordinated, aggressive response at all levels of government.”

The state has formally requested federal assistance with the response, he said.

“We need all hands on deck when it comes to protecting our marine environment, and that’s why we are working to bring federal resources into Hawaii as quickly as possible,” Schatz said. “I have been in direct contact with the Coast Guard, EPA, and NOAA to discuss how the federal government can aid with response and remediation efforts,” he said.

Assistance through the Coast Guard’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) funding will be available, and the Coast Guard will coordinate the response, with involvement from the state, EPA, and NOAA, he said.

In 2003, 50,000 gallons bound for a Matson barge leaked out of a state transmission line in Maui.

Matson has run a molasses export operation at Sand Island since 1983. Officials said they do not know how old the deteriorated pipe was where the leak occurred or when it was last inspected. The company hadn’t used the pipe for years. The pipe had been capped sometime ago, but Monday’s leak occurred in a section of pipe before the cap.

Matson said it doesn’t know why the  leak was undetected or how long the spill lasted.

State agencies are looking into what caused the pipe to break and whether Matson will be charged for the cleanup operation and violations of the Clean Water Act.

Nearly 2,000 dead fish were retrieved from the harbor by Thursday.

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