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Pepeʻekeo Community Assoc. - Pepeʻekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee Contested Case Hearing Request

Updated: Nov 8, 2018

November 1, 2018


Alec Wong, Clean Water Branch

Environmental Management Division

State of Hawaii Dept. of Health

2827 Waimano Home Road, #225

Pearl City, HI 96782


Request for Contested Case Hearing on the matter of Hu Honua Bioenergy’s application and for NPDES permit #S000557 and application for permit to operate an Underground Injection Control


My name is Jaerick-Lee Medeiros-Garcia. I am a resident of Pepe‘ekeo and Vice President of the Pepe‘ekeo Community Association. I am also Chairman of the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee (PSFC), a committee of the Pepe‘ekeo Community Association. There are roughly 70 members in the PSFC. The great majority of our members reside within a 4-mile radius of the proposed Hu Honua Bioenergy facility.

As leader of the PSFC, I am obligated to make sure that the shoreline and coastal waters are safe, clean, and healthy for generations to come. The marine resources must remain top-quality. Our community depends on ocean resources to feed our families and put food on our tables. For these reasons, I am writing to request a contested case hearing on the matter of the Department of Health considering issuance of two permits to Hu Honua Bioenergy: 1) a permit to operate Underground Injection Control (UIC) wells, and 2) NPDES permit # S000557. I believe issuance of these permits will allow contaminants, thermal pollution and likely inadequate salinity to negative impact our coastal fisheries.

The project is located at 28-283 Sugar Mill Road, Pepe‘ekeo , Island of Hawaii, TMK: (3) 2-8-008:104 and 161. The facility is a biomass electric power generation facility and is classified under Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code 4911, Electric Services (other electric power generation).

The Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee care-takes and depends on the coastline that includes the Hu Honua Bioenergy Facility. - The health of our shoreline is of foremost importance to our livelihoods and well-being. We are requesting a contested case hearing to ensure that the interests of Pepe‘ekeo’s local fishers and residents, who are also taxpayers, are taken seriously.

The receiving water, the Pacific Ocean at 19.842801°N latitude, 155.084964°W longitude and 19.843665°N latitude, 155.084645°W longitude, is classified by the DOH as Class A, Marine Waters, Open Coastal. It is the objective of class A waters that their use for recreational purposes and aesthetic enjoyment be protected. Any other use shall be permitted as long as it is compatible with the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife, and with recreation in and on these waters. According to law, these waters shall not act as receiving waters for any discharge which has not received the best degree of treatment or control compatible with the criteria established for this class.

The PSFC believes that Hu Honua’s current plans do NOT include administering the best degree of treatment or control compatible with the criteria established for this class.

The shoreline we steward begins about two miles south of the Hu Honua facility and ends about four miles north of the facility, at Honomu. Protection of this shoreline and these waters is our primary mission.

This request contains concise statements of:

  1. The legal authority under which the proceeding, hearing, or action is to be held or made,

  2. The disagreement, denial, grievance, or other matter that is being contested by the complainant,

  3. The facts and issues raised, and

  4. The relief requested.

(1) The legal authority under which the hearing is to be held is the State of Hawai'i Department of Health pursuant to HAR Sections 11-1-21; HRS Sections 91-2.

(2) The disagreement, denial, grievance, or other matter I wish to contest on behalf of the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee are as follows:

(a) We oppose the injection of over two dozen hazardous chemicals into injection wells, along with wastewater to be discharged. The manufacturer’s labels for each of these chemicals is listed in Hu Honua’s application to build the UIC wells. Most of them are listed as “hazardous,” many of them strictly warn “do not expose to groundwater,” and one of them indicates that it is seriously harmful to aquatic life. This is of great concern to the PSFC, because we rely on aquatic life for our economic livelihood and also to put food on the table.

The chemicals will move with the current. When the Hu Honua facility operated as a sugar mill, the bagasse would travel ten miles all the way to Hilo Bay. Who is to say that these chemicals are not going to go farther than Hilo Bay? They are finer than bagasse. They will travel to Hilo Bay, to Keaukaha, down King’s Landing and to Kumukahi Point, where the lava fields are. That’s the nature of the currents, the tide and the wind. No more than three miles out are our state buoys where the limu grow, and attract ‘ahi, ono, mahimahi and other fish that the local fishermen catch. The chemicals will impact the fish. If bagasse can travel ten miles to Hilo Bay, those chemicals will travel the three miles to the buoys. The state buoys is where the limu grow and ecosystems flourish.

The PSFC objects to discharging anything into our bay. Who knows how long these things will linger? Once you kill the limu, you kill the fish life. And once you kill the coral, you kill the fish life.

(b) We oppose injection of heated wastewater without any cooling treatment into injection wells. Water that is too hot will kill coral. The hot water will emerge from the bottom of the ocean floor. The PSFC is extremely concerned about this risk to the marine life, because bottomfeeders such as opakapaka, onaga and ehu live in these ecosystems. If the coral is damaged, the whole ecosystem collapses and the fish disappear. We cannot risk these fisheries for our ability to feed our families, our economy or the health of the whole east side community.

(c) We do not believe Hu Honua’s report assuring us that the wastewater discharged from the UIC wells will be kept at a temperature that is cool enough to not harm coral.

(d) We oppose injection of water in which the salinity has been manipulated by reverse osmosis into injection wells. If the salinity of the injected wastewater is not the proper proportion, it will kill coral on the sea bed.

(e) Why is a permit to operate injection wells being considered without ever having conducted an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement, or any other studies about injecting 21.6 million gallons per day of hot chemical-laden wastewater of inconsistent salinity into this coastal area less than 100 feet from the cliff? We need studies to show the impact on depleting the aquifer over the long term, and on ensuring the safety of drinking water. Our families drink the water from the Hakalau aquifer that Hu Honua wishes to tamper with. Why is the State barreling forward without these important studies to protect Hawaii’s citizens?

(f) Members of the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee are concerned about further erosion and landslides accelerated by the force of 21.6 million gallons of water being injected less than 100 feet from the edge of our already unstable cliffs.

(g) Members of the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee are concerned because the injected heated, contaminated wastewater with inconsistent salinity, will rise from the bottom of the seabed, and make direct contact with coral reefs and other marine ecosystems upon which fisheries depend in order to thrive. For this reason, we believe that Hu Honua should apply for an NPDES permit to operate these UIC wells, and that DOH should determine that the UIC wells will be the point source for the pollution.

(h) Why is Outfall #3 excluded from being considered for the NPDES stormwater discharge permit #S000557? It needs to be. Manganese is one of the contaminants reported in the soil in a 2013 Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) that tested wastewater discharge of this area. Manganese in fish can cause neurological disease when consumed. Copper and arsenic were also reported. These toxins can be absorbed through bare skin, so if children and others are playing or walking on the beach barefoot or in rubber slippers, they will be exposed to these contaminants coming off the outfall.

(i) The outfalls being considered for the NPDES permit are on government land. Why has Hu Honua not applied for any easement to use our public lands in this way? The PSFC’s kuleana is to steward coastal resources. Part of that is ensuring that legal protocols are in place and maintained.

(j) The stormwater that will be discharged from Outfall #1 will be passing over another area of highly toxic soil. This will also be toxic both to fish and to members of the PSFC fishing on the shoreline.

(3) The facts and issues raised are as follows:

(a) In Hu Honua’s application to build injection wells, the company lists over two dozen hazardous chemicals that will be added to the wastewater before it is injected. Manufacturer’s warnings, which are included in the application, list most of the additives as “hazardous,” and many of them strictly warn “do not expose to groundwater.” One of them indicates that it is seriously harmful to aquatic life.

(b) Hu Honua intends to use no cooling treatment before injecting the wastewater. There are records from 2004 that show a high incidence of coral mortality near the discharge point of hot wastewater when the facility operated as a coal burning plant under the name Hilo Coast Electrical Company (HCEC). HCEC discharged its wastewater at the surface, which allowed for cooling as the heated water sank to the depths where the coral live. Hu Honua’s discharged water will not be sinking from the surface; it will be emerging at the seabed, in dangerously direct contact with the coral ecosystems.

(c) The reason we do not believe Hu Honua’s report that the wastewater will not be too hot as it enters the ocean is because, in the thermal effects report that Hu Honua gave to the Dept. of Health, it claimed that they would produce an average of 18.75 MW per day. This figure is inconsistent with the promise that Hu Honua made to the Public Utilities Commission when it signed the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The PPA says that Hu Honua would produce an average of 22.8 MW at any given instant. Generating this much more electricity will increase water temperatures. The PSFC is concerned that Hu Honua is making promises it can’t keep to DOH about water temperature, just to get the permit approved, and once it is approved, they will fulfill their promise to the PUC to produce a volume of energy that will generate higher temperatures that will kill marine ecosystems that members of the PSFC rely on.

(d) Hu Honua president Warren Lee has stated that the 21.6 million gallons of brackish water per day that is drawn from the Hakalau aquifer will undergo reverse osmosis in order to desalinate it before it enters the machinery. How and when will the salination return to the water before it is injected back into the aquifer? If it is not saline enough, it will kill the corals when it reaches the sea bed, because coral requires a certain proportion of saline to survive.

(e) A May 1, 2018 report produced for Hu Honua by Integral Consulting entitled "Thermal Analysis of Future Cooling Water Discharge" states, "Both rock aquifer heterogeneity and sediment thickness and hydraulic properties are unknown at this project location." Yet, Hu Honua president Warren Lee, in an August 21, 2018 letter to Darryl Lum, the Supervising Engineer of the Clean Water Branch of the Dept. of Health, stated that the injected wastewater may be slowed down in reaching the ocean, due to sediment and other geological inconsistencies within the aquifer. Mr. Lee said this as a way to explain, with no scientific basis whatsoever, how the water would be slowed down long enough to cool it to a safe temperature that would not harm coral once it emerged from the seabed.

Mr. Lee’s apparently unfounded statement contradicts a statement made by Norris Uehara, the supervisor of the Safe Drinking Water Branch UIC Program. Mr. Uehara stated that Hu Honua’s injection wells are not threat to our drinking water because the drinking water wells are at least ¼ mile mauka from the injection wells. Because groundwater flows from mauka to makai, there is the assumption that no backward flow would transport the contaminated water from the injection wells uphill to mix with the drinking water.

If, as Mr. Uehara asserts, the groundwater is flowing so quickly that no backward flow will take place and thus contaminate our drinking water, then how is it that the groundwater is also moving so slowly that it can cool down sufficiently before reaching the ocean so as not to kill marine life -- as Mr. Lee asserts? This is a key question, and the answer should be supported by scientific data. One cannot have it “both ways.”

The Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee strongly opposes issuance of the permit to operate the UIC wells when such a dangerous contradiction has not yet been resolved through conducting scientific research. We cannot risk our precious coastal waters and drinking water for the simple reason that this project is so confused and disorganized.

(f) Members of the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee are concerned about further erosion and landslides accelerated by the force of 21.6 million gallons of water being injected less than 100 feet from the edge of our already unstable cliffs.

To give you an idea of how geologically unstable these cliffs are, when Hu Honua decided it would not repair Outfall #3 after it was damaged, stormwater was sheeting over the area for months, softening the cliff so much that during Hurricane Lane, there was a significant landslide. During a landslide or erosion, the soil falls into the ocean and kills coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. The PSFC opposes activity such as injection wells that accelerate erosion, which is a cause of mortality in fisheries. If simple sheeting of groundwater can create conditions for large landslides, just imagine what pumping 21.6 million gallons of water per day will do!

(g) A May 1, 2018 Hu Honua-sponsored report entitled, “Thermal Analysis of Future Cooling Water Discharge,” states, “The warm spent cooling water, injected into UIC wells, migrates through the groundwater aquifer and discharges to a limited area of the seafloor (aquifer/ocean interface).” This statement in Hu Honua’s report is in alignment with the belief of the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee: that there is a hydrological connection between the point source of thermal pollution (UIC wells) and sea floor ecosystems.

The Ninth Circuit Court has unanimously ruled that an NPDES permit is required under the Clean Water Act for a discharge via groundwater, if it is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge. This remains the law until it gets struck down by the Supreme Court or an act of Congress.

We believe that the only reason Hu Honua is using injection wells is to avoid applying for the required NPDES permit. This motive is corroborated by a September 7, 2017 letter from Hu Honua plant manager Kevin Owen to Hawaii County Planning Director Michael Yee. In the letter, Mr. Owen states, “… HHB (Hu Honua Bioenergy) identified the fact that three underground injection wells were going to be used and permits obtained in lieu of obtaining an Individual NPDES permit for the non-contact cooling water that was originally intended to be discharged through the existing outfall.”

(h) There is reason to believe that any stormwater coming off of Outfall #3 – which is inappropriately NOT included for consideration for the NPDES permit #S000557 -- will be highly toxic, not only to fish, but also when exposed to members of our Shoreline Fishing Committee.

Stormwater that is discharged from Outfall #3 will have sheeted over the south side of the site where Hu Honua has spread highly contaminated soil containing arsenic, manganese, copper and other contaminants. These contaminants can be absorbed into the body through bare feet, and uptaken by fish.

The original source for the contaminated soil were the settling trenches near Outfall #3, used by Hilo Coast Electrical Company (HCEC). This was where HCEC would collect water that had been used to wash down the site of the highly contaminated fly ash byproduct. The water would seep into the soil, leaving the concentrations of heavy metals contaminants in the settling trenches. Hu Honua dug up this highly toxic soil and spread it over the area around Outfall #3. Any stormwater coming off Outfall #3 would likely contain these contaminants, and for this reason Outfall #3 should be included in DOH’s consideration of Hu Honua’s application for NPDES permit #S000557.

In fact, according to a federal 2013 Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR), high sediment loads were found in stormwater at this site. The DMR also referred to an earlier study conducted in 2005 by the Dept. of Health by the Hazard Environmental Emergency Response (HEER) team that also found stormwater to be contaminated.

(i) Outfall #1 and Outfall #4 are located on public land.

(j) The stormwater that will be discharged from Outfall #1 will be passing over another area of highly toxic soil. This is the site of the current ash pile that was left abandoned by Hilo Coast Electrical Company many years ago. Beneath this ash pile is cane bagasse that is also high in arsenic and manganese.

(4) Relief requested by the Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee is that the State of Hawaii Department of Health take the following actions:

  1. deny issuance of permit to operate UIC wells and

  2. deny issuance of NPDES permit #S000557.

Thank you for considering this request for a Contested Case Hearing.


Jaerick-Lee Medeiros-Garcia

Chairman of

Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee,

Pepe‘ekeo Community Association

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