HILO — A Naalehu resident has sued two county officials over plans to build sewer plants in Naalehu and Pahala.
Sandra Demoruelle, in court filings against Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski and Wastewater Division Chief Dora Beck, is asking the court to require the county to turn over copies of draft environmental assessments she requested, and also to publish notice of the documents in the state’s Environmental Notice.
In addition, Demoruelle, who is representing herself without an attorney, wants the county to immediately quit paying consultants and contractors and halt all planning and development activities on the Naalehu and Pahala wastewater treatment plan until final environmental impact statements or environmental assessments are accepted.
A hearing is scheduled in the case for 8:30 a.m. Thursday in 3rd Circuit Court in Hilo. The county is under a federal consent order to close large-capacity cesspools in Naalehu and Pahala or face penalties. The county took over the cesspools from C. Brewer when the plantations were closed in the 1990s.
“I’m not trying to stop the project, but what I’ve been saying all along is examine the (large capacity cesspools) and take a look at other technologies,” Demoruelle said Monday.
Demoruelle and other Naalehu residents have regularly appeared before the Environmental Management Commission and the County Council, asking why the county has determined large sewer plants are needed, rather than sticking to an earlier plan to convert the gang cesspools to large capacity-septic systems at a much cheaper cost.
That method was outlined in a 2007 finding of no significant impact published in the state Environmental Notice. But the county has since pursued separate sewer plants as the preferred solution.
Unlike with the Lono Kona sewer project, where homeowners agreed to establish a special improvement district to pay for the lines with surcharges on their bills, the county is picking up the tab for the Ka‘u projects. The County Council agreed to issue bonds for the work, estimated to total $41 million for the two projects.
Finding land for Naalehu’s $20.3 million project has been difficult. The county evaluated 30 sites, with its most promising site, No. 29, drawing community complaints about being too close to Naalehu Elementary and Intermediate School.
County attorneys argue that the lawsuit is premature, because the county has not yet reached its deadline to finalize its environmental documents, and there is still time for public comment.
A consent order between the county and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives the county until Oct. 5, 2019, to complete its environmental assessment for the Naalehu project.
“Plaintiff’s claims have not yet come to fruition. She alleges that the Naalehu EA was not published in The Environmental Notice. It is not yet due and defendants still have time to do so,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Kaena Horowitz said in an Oct. 16 response to the complaint. “She alleges that the Naalehu EA was not given to her. Defendants still have time to finalize the Naalehu EA before they are required to produce it. She alleges that she has not been able to publicly comment on the Naalehu project. There are still meetings that Plaintiff can attend to vent her spleen.”