Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant cost increases

KAILUA-KONA — Delays and scope expansions have increased the cost by millions to upgrade the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant to produce R1 recycled water.

Though it was priced at $54 million several years ago, Department of Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski anticipates the project, in its current scope and delays, will cost about $75 million. The cost increase includes expansion of output from 1 million gallons/day to 5 million gallons/day and the capacity to disinfect all of the R1 water with ultraviolet (UV) light — not just for irrigation use.

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“That is a significant upgrade,” he said. “And a not-insignificant cost upgrade.”

Estimates up to $100 million have been discussed, however, Kucharski told the Environmental Management Commission during its monthly meeting held Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center that the larger figure includes activities unrelated to the actual R1 upgrade, such as the North Kona Pump Station and work on the plant’s headworks and other repairs.

“We’re reducing that and getting a better number. I will have a better cost estimate for you at the next meeting,” Kucharski told the seven commissioners. “I can only tell you that the numbers that we’ve seen, when questioned, we’re able to cut that down because there were other activities included in addition to the R1.”

R1 water is considered suitable for irrigation and other non-drinking uses. The recycled water will not connect with drinking water systems.

The R1 upgrade was supposed to be finished by the end of 2020, however, the county anticipates it won’t be able to start construction until 2021 due to delays in getting the project’s environmental impact statement finalized because of a backup in the State Historic Preservation Division, which is tasked with compliance review.

“We are really stuck. We can’t do much of anything until the EIS is processed and finalized,” Kucharski said.

With the likely start date in 2021, R1 water will not be available for at least two years thereafter.

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Funding for the R1 upgrade project is via a low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund. The county is also working to secure additional funds from the Bureau of Reclamation, which could provide construction funding up to $20 million.

The delay also means the second phase of the project that includes building out and connecting pipelines and other infrastructure to move the water to large-consumption users, won’t start on time.

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