Lihu’e Airport workers responsible for some actions leading to EPA fines

As part of a settlement agreement reached Thursday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency leaders required state Department of Transportation officials to pay a $1 million penalty and put up $50 million for storm water mitigation measures as a result of several violations of the federal Clean Water Act on highways and airports statewide.

On Kaua’i, government investigators identified violations at the Lihu’e Airport, including some involving workers at the state Department of Transportation Airports Division maintenance baseyard, said Dean Higuchi, a spokesman for the EPA office in Honolulu.

Water from maintenance areas traveled to storm drains, which empty into the ocean, Higuchi said. “There were exposed waste piles, garbage (through which water passed and flowed into storm drains),” Higuchi said.

The violations conflict with long-standing, concerted, islandwide efforts by members of Kaua’i groups to protect coastal waters and marine animals.

Statewide, government inspectors discovered the violations and issued three orders to DOT leaders in 1999, 2000 and 2002 on the violations, Higuchi said.

Inspectors from EPA and the state Department of Health found DOT leaders were significantly behind others with state and local governments in meeting national and state storm water requirements, Higuchi noted.

The DOT leaders’ compliance with the settlement will resolve the outstanding violations, EPA officials said.

After the warnings were issued, DOT leaders developed plans to correct the problems, but the procedures or methods used weren’t adequate in preventing future violations, Higuchi said.

“We are glad we came to this agreement, and the state can move forward and basically take their management plan and policies (to the next level) to control storm water,” Higuchi said.

Wayne Nastri, administrator of the EPA’s Pacific region, hopes so.

“Stormwater discharges pollute Hawai’i’s streams, coastal waters, and coral reefs,” Nastri said. “By agreeing to make long-lasting changes to its operations u nder this settlement, DOT will reduce its impacts upon the environment at roads, airports and harbors.”

Nastri said, “We believe these actions will result in increased protection of coral reefs and improved water quality for the people of Hawai’i.”

The corrective measures are estimated to cost $50 million, and will take the next five years to complete, EPA officials said.

The agreement requires DOT leaders to improve the way they manage storm water run-off from highways and airports.

The correction actions also require DOT leaders to:

  • Do a better job of managing storm sewer systems for highways on O’ahu, including the removal of sediment and debris from roadsides and storm drain catch basins. Reducing roadside erosion and controlling debris or pollutants from going into the drainage system are two other requirements reached in the agreement;
  • Institute new procedures to control storm water at state-highway construction projects. The measures that could be taken include implementing better processes for the planning and design of proposed projects, and more inspection of projects;
  • Improve the management of storm water at airports, meaning conducting more inspections and enforcement actions against guilty airport tenants;

As part of the settlement, state DOT leaders also will spend about $1 million to set up a management system to assess the agency’s “many environmental obligations at highways, airports and harbors under the agency’s jurisdiction,” according to EPA officials.

Also, DOT leaders will be required to spend another $60,000 to provide statewide training to construction contractors on storm water controls.

The $1 million in penalties will be divided between the state and federal officials.

“This joint enforcement action represents tremendous team work between federal and state partners that will bring long-term, significant environmental improvements to Hawai’i’s waters,” said Grant Nakayama, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“We take very seriously the laws that protect our environment from harmful pollutants,” said Kelly A. Johnson, acting assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

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