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County works on plans for major wastewater project

Posted 8:16 a.m. Monday
Updated 8:18 a.m. Monday

— Hawaii County officials are trying to move forward with plans for a proposed wastewater project that could be one of the most expensive the county has ever undertaken.

The $100 million upgrade to the Kealakehe sewer plant would allow treated wastewater to irrigate crops in North Kona. But officials say several issues need to be addressed before the project can get up and running, West Hawaii Today reported (http://bit.ly/2gAwT49 ).

The wastewater plant currently treats water to a lower standard than what's being planned with the upgrade before chlorinating the waste, which gets funneled into a pit near the Kealakehe police station. Richard Bennett with the county's Environmental Management Commission said a big concern is salt water infiltration of private sewer lines carrying waste to the sewer plant.

"The chloride in the water is alarmingly high, so it will be extremely toxic to vegetation," Bennett said. "Asking people to irrigate with that water is a prescription for failure."

The commission wants the state Department of Health to conduct tests of private sewer laterals for any suspected infiltration or to compel property owners to inspect their own sewer lines.

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said it is important for more water to get filtered, cleaned and put to good use so that there is less pollution threatening the near-shore waters off the Kona Coast.

In order to begin the upgrades, the county needs to complete a $23 million sludge removal project at the plant. That work would need to accommodate the nesting and breeding seasons of an endangered Hawaiian bird that lives near the plant.

The first part of the project to improve the quality of treated wastewater involves a $54 million upgrade to the sewer plant that is now in the planning stages. The next phase is a $50 million distribution project to install reuse pipes from the sewer plant to Old Kona Airport Park, Queen Liliuokalani Trust property, Kohanaiki golf course and the long-anticipated Kealakehe Regional Park.

Bennett said the county should focus its efforts on providing the treated water free to public parks, instead of selling it to private businesses and golf courses.

"Once we get higher quality reclaimed water, I firmly believe there will be a high demand for it," Bennett said. "It's going to make our drinking water resources go much, much further."

The county hopes to complete the wastewater project within three years.

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