The Maui News: Suit challenges EIS approval for wastewater plant

Suit challenges EIS approval for wastewater plant

Anaergia aims to install anaerobic digester to produce methane gas

The Maui News

The Sierra Club Maui Group and Maui Tomorrow have filed a lawsuit challenging the approval of an environmental impact statement for Anaergia Services’ project with Maui County for a renewable energy conversion and sludge processing project at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

The project led by Anaergia’s Maui All Natural Alternative aims to install an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas from energy crops grown on 500 acres of former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. lands. The gas would be refined at the Kahului wastewater facility site and fuel a combined heat-and-power engine to generate electricity for the treatment plant located on 18.8 acres next to the ocean on Amala Place.

Waste heat from the engine would dry wastewater solid matter, known as “sludge.”

Undried sludge has been used for years as raw material for Maui EKO Systems to create compost at the Central Maui Landfill. Without the sludge, EKO is expected to go out of business.

According to the plaintiffs’ announcement of the lawsuit, the project entails trucking sludge from wastewater facilities in Kihei and Lahaina to the Kahului facility to be dried using methane gas byproducts of the plant’s anaerobic digestion project.

The announcement says that Anaergia was the sole bidder for the project. Anaergia holds a county waste-to-energy landfill gas contract, which an independent auditor determined would cost the county $35 million more than anticipated, the plaintiffs said.

The groups challenge Anaergia’s preparation of the environmental impact statement, as opposed to the county, “for reasons including the county’s unwritten policy of imposing less-strict oversight over projects for which they have outside entities prepare an EIS.”

They also contend the environmental review failed to adequately consider predicted sea-level rise.

“Taxpayers should not be burdened with underwriting complicated science experiments that will only cost taxpayers more money and likely do nothing to protect the environment,” said Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Albert Perez. “Maui County needs to move forward, not backward, by getting the Kahului treatment facility out of the tsunami zone and away from sea-level rise.”

Sierra Club Maui Group President Rob Weltman said: The “Sierra Club is very much in favor of increasing the use of renewable energy, including microgrids for specific purposes. However, it must be done in a responsible way which does not result in new threats to our sensitive shoreline environment.”

There was no immediate comment Thursday afternoon from Maui County or Anaergia.

County officials have said Anaergia would develop the facility at no construction cost to the county. In return, the county would pay 29 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity produced at the plant. The cost of disposing the sludge would be reduced from $103 to $80 per ton by switching from EKO Compost to Anaergia, officials said.

Built in 1973, the wastewater treatment plant can treat up to 7.9 million gallons of Central Maui wastewater daily. The plant is forecast to reach its treatment capacity by 2030.