Kealakehe sewer plant upgrades costly

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HILO — Costs have climbed for repair work on the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant, with the County Council voting Wednesday to add another $5 million to the $18 million estimated cost of the project.

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HILO — Costs have climbed for repair work on the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant, with the County Council voting Wednesday to add another $5 million to the $18 million estimated cost of the project.

The extra money, borrowed from the state water pollution control revolving fund, is needed to replace badly eroded liners in several of the lagoons, county Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said.

The aeration upgrade and sludge removal project, which began in 2014, is anticipated to be completed later this year. All five lagoons will be undergoing aeration equipment upgrade and/or sludge removal. The project also involves upgrading the blowers, the equipment that supplies the air to the aeration equipment that is the backbone to the entire treatment system, by replacing them with energy efficient units that will reduce electrical costs at the plant.

The contractor is working on one lagoon at a time to keep the plant operational to continue processing wastewater received from the Kona sewer system.

“This is the most important project in my district, even though it’s not very glamorous,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff. “But it is serious.”

Eoff is one of several in West Hawaii looking forward to the day the county’s first-ever wastewater reuse project is installed at that location. That’s the second phase of the project, and it’s still uncertain how much it will cost or how long it will take.

It can’t happen soon enough for Stephen Holmes, a former councilman for the City and County of Honolulu and state conservation chairman for the Sierra Club, which took Maui County to court over its wastewater discharge issues. Holmes said the club was “geared up” to sue Hawaii County, but decided to give the county more time to fix its problem after talking with Eoff, now-former Managing Director Wally Lau and others.

“They are making movement in that direction,” Holmes said. “These things never go as fast as you’d like.”

The administration is currently in the process of contracting with a consultant for the approximately $1.6 million for planning and designing, Leithead Todd said. That includes geotechnical investigations, surveys, required permits, community meetings and an environmental impact statement. Once that work’s done, the county will have a better idea of the design cost to produce construction plans and specifications for contractor bidding.

The county has been talking about a reuse plant to send much-needed water to thirsty West Hawaii parks and golf courses for almost two decades. The project, which could cost upward of $50 million for a distribution system, includes piping the water to Old Kona Airport Park and the long-anticipated Kealakehe Regional Park. The water would be stored in a tank uphill, and gravity would feed the water to its destination, she said.

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Not only should the county capture that precious resource, every drop of water that’s filtered, cleaned and put to good use is that much less pollution threatening the nearshore waters off the Kona Coast, Holmes and Eoff said.

“It’s a resource. It has value,” Holmes said. “That’s why you don’t dump it in a hole in the ground.”

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