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Maui County committee agrees to settle injection well case

September 7, 2019

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Hawaii county officials have recommended settling with environmental groups that sued over the use of injection wells.

Members of the Maui County Committee on Governance, Ethics, and Transparency voted 5-3 to recommend that the full council settle and remove the case ahead of U.S. Supreme Court consideration in November, The Maui News reported .

Under the agreement, Maui County would be expected to reduce reliance on the injection wells, reimburse the groups’ litigation costs and abide by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, or an equivalent control document, officials said.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in 2012 by environmental groups including Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, West Maui Preservation Association and the Sierra Club over the use of injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility, officials said. The groups claim the wastewater was damaging to the reefs and polluted the water.

The U.S. District Court in Hawaii ruled in 2014 that the injection wells violated the federal Clean Water Act.

Maui County applied for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit several years ago for injection wells as ordered by the previous decision in district court, officials said. However, the state Department of Health does not know how to manage such a permit.

“Issuing another permit is not going to solve the problem, it’s a paper process,” department director Bruce Anderson said. “The solution is going to be in a way to reclaim that water and cease to use those injection wells (unless in) heavy rain or times you can’t use (the water) for irrigation.”

Those seeking to settle the case worry about the impacts of ocean pollution and have said a victory in the case would lean in favor of President Donald Trump’s new Environmental Protection Agency leadership, which has been seen as easing environmental restrictions. It could set a precedent that could allow for further pollution of waterways by indirect means.

A withdrawal of the case could have ramifications for cesspool owners, who may face fines and be required to obtain permits, supporters of the appeal said. For the county, that means figuring out what to do with the injection well water and potentially facing costly wastewater upgrades.

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Information from: The Maui News, http://www.mauinews.com

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