HILO — The price to clean up the old Kealakehe scrapyard has nearly doubled to $10 million.
The County Council without comment Wednesday advanced Bills 52 and 53, increasing the $6 million bond previously approved for the project by another $4 million. The bills, which were waived from committee, have one final hearing before becoming law.
The county plans to repay the bonds with proceeds from the low-interest State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Loan Program. The closing procedures have to be approved by the state Department of Health as part of the county’s permit.
The site, which was closed by the county in 2013, is contaminated with lead. How much lead was apparently miscalculated when cleanup of the site was planned after it closed.
“The quantities of debris found below the surface exceeds the estimated quantities provided for in the construction contract,” Environmental Management staff said in a memo to the council requesting the funding. “The additional money being requested is needed to complete the removal of the remaining debris to meet DOH requirements.”
The project was awarded to contractor Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd. The company began work in October 2017, and had expected to have had it completed by Aug. 1, 2018.
How could the estimate have been so far off?
Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski, who inherited the problem when he assumed the office in late 2016, said Thursday the original contract was based on an assumption that the lead contamination went only so far down.
But once the contractor started digging, it unearthed entire cars, refrigerators and other large debris that had been buried there. The debris layer went much deeper than originally expected.
“I can’t say it was wrong, but it was incomplete,” Kucharski said of the estimate. “As we got in, we just found more stuff that we had to get out of there. … It was just one of those situations where the more we looked the more we found.”
The county didn’t take core samples, but sample trenches were dug around the property, he said.
Finance Director Deanna Sako said the administration does evaluate projects that go over estimates to try to keep it from happening again.
“We try to correct whatever we can in the future, but some will still go over the estimates because of things that are discovered after construction starts,” she said.
The lead-contaminated soil is being trucked off the site and deposited in the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu. After that, the county has to cap the site and get a final clearance from DOH.
“The goal is to obtain closure of the site to meet DOH environmental action levels for commercial/industrial land use,” Environmental Management officials said in the memo to the council.
Council Finance Committee Chairwoman Maile David said she was briefed by Environmental Management officials and understood the county has few options, as it’s required to clean up the site under DOH rules.
“I don’t think we really have a choice,” David said. “If we don’t do it, we’d be dinged by DOH.”