LAHAINA >> Four community groups are suing Maui County in federal court over alleged environmental violations at a Lahaina treatment plant.
The groups claim millions of gallons of wastewater injected into wells at the facility each day surface offshore of Kahekili Beach Park, killing coral and triggering outbreaks of invasive algae.
Earthjustice filed the complaint Monday on behalf of Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, West Maui Preservation Association and Sierra Club-Maui Group. They notified the county of their intent to sue last year, alleging Clean Water Act violations have been ongoing for at least 20 years.
“We notified Maui County last June that its Lahaina facility was damaging the reef and operating illegally, in hope that the county would voluntarily seek the required permit for wastewater discharges from the injection wells,” said Earthjustice attorney Caroline Ishida. “Unfortunately, it apparently takes an enforcement action to get the county to do anything, which is why we’re not seeking relief from the court.”
County spokesman Rod Antone said corporation counsel attorneys had yet to receive the complaint, but that pending litigation prevents officials from commenting.
The suit asks that the county be directed to secure a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit
Attorneys for Earthjustice announced Wednesday they had filed a notice of intent to sue Maui County over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
The notice claims that the county has known for years that treated wastewater injected into the ground at the facility percolates into the ocean nearby, but has not made good on promises to phase out the injection wells or obtained a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to allow the discharge.
It also states that, although the wastewater receives some treatment, it still contains bacteria that presents health risks to ocean users, as well as nitrogen and other nutrients that can stimulate reef-smothering algae blooms offshore.
County officials said they were operating the treatment plant under permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health, and had been working cooperatively with state and federal officials to make sure they were in compliance with all their permit conditions.
Part of that cooperation includes conducting tracer and seep studies to determine if a discharge permit is needed for the facility, they said, noting that the EPA had not yet determined if such a permit was required.
Western lawmakers oppose CWRA
Dec 10, 2009 11:07 AM
In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., members of the House and Senate Western Caucuses cited concerns over job loss and regulatory overreach in expressing their strong objections to the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA) (S. 787).
The letter, signed by 11 Western senators and 17 Western House members, stated, “In the West … where the frontier spirit of smaller government and individual liberty are still sacred traditions, there is overwhelming objection to this bill. We strongly object to any attempt to move this legislation, either as a stand alone bill or as an attachment to a bill, in the Senate or House of Representatives. More specifically, we cannot imagine any bill so important that we could support it with the Clean Water Restoration Act attached.”
The CWRA seeks to expand the jurisdictional sweep of the Clean Water Act, introduced in 1972, by granting the federal government authority over all U.S. waterways. Most notably, S. 787 removes the requirement that regulated waterways be “navigable,” as originally stated in the Clean Water Act. The deletion of the word “navigable” will allow all inland waters to be subject to federal regulation.
The letter further stated, “this legislation would grant the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, virtually unlimited regulatory control over all wet areas within a state. This bill attempts to trump state’s rights and pre-empts state and local governments from making local land and water use decisions. This bill will also build an even more expensive, cumbersome bureaucracy which will increase delays in securing permits and will slow or stop vital economic activities all across the country. Commercial and residential real estate development, agriculture, electric transmission, transportation and mining will all be effected. Thousands of jobs will be lost.”