$31 Million Purchase Price Only the Start Of State Expenses for Oʻahu Sugar Land

posted in: July 2001 | 0

The H-1 highway slices across the southern end of the central Oʻahu isthmus like an asphalt river, collecting streams of traffic from the new developments on either side: golf courses, a water park, shopping malls, and thousands upon thousands of homes that look fresh out of the box but for the ubiquitous film of red dirt.

The developments have sprouted in a checkerboard pattern on old cane land. Interspersed among them are small farm lots. Along Farrington Highway, paralleling H-1, fields of corn, melons, and Chinese vegetables break up what would otherwise be a dreary, hot stretch of weedy, unused land.

Eleven-hundred acres of that land belongs to the state, which acquired them in 1993 from Campbell Estate in hopes of eventually supporting urban development in the area, planned to be Oʻahu’s “second city.” The Department of Land and Natural Resources, which is charged with managing most state land, has granted Aloun Farm a short-term revocable permit to let it use the acreage, fallow since the closure of Oʻahu Sugar Company in the mid-1990s. So as not to lock up the land and thus prevent the state from moving forward with long-term development plans, the state gave Aloun Farm a month-to-month revocable permit rather than a multi-year lease.

Hawaiʻi’s poor economic climate has stalled the state’s plans for now, but should the economy pick up, pesticide contamination on this tract, as well as on nearby former sugar lands owned by the City and County of Honolulu, suggests development will be both slower and more costly than the state ever dreamt at the time it acquired the land for nearly $32 million.

The contamination has been there for decades and was discovered by state agencies several years ago. Even the DNLR has known about it since 1997. But it has not been until recently — as the DLNR confronts a legacy of hazardous waste from its sugar tenants statewide – that action has been taken to address the problem.

Hazardous Inheritance

On March 9, then-DLNR Land Division administrator Dean Uchida laid out to the Board of Land and Natural Resources the sad situation concerning Aloun Farm’s occupancy of state land:

Since the board approved issuing the permit in October 1997, Uchida began, “a lot has transpired, not the least of which has been the staff’s inability to complete the RP” (revocable permit).

An old pesticide mixing and loading site with high levels of dioxin had been found on the property, four of the Abutilon menziesii plants – an endangered species — had been destroyed, and the land the farmer was using was not the area specified in the permit.

To fix the myriad problems, Uchida’s staff was proposing to change the permit to reflect the farm’s actual location, to coordinate with the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife to protect the remaining endangered plants, and to require that the farmers stay away from the abandoned pesticide facility.

“All the agencies are trying to determine a safe perimeter for this area and go in and do some temporary capping of the site,” Uchida said.

Then-Land Board member Colbert Matsumoto expressed concern that the pesticide contamination needed more attention.

“I have a problem with approving this,” he said. “I do have a question regarding this contamination that apparently resulted from activity by Oʻahu Sugar. What is going on in terms of Oʻahu Sugar and Amfac?” Amfac was the corporate owner of the now-defunct sugar company.

Uchida responded that the state Department of Health “indicated it’s up to us” to cure the problem, since the DLNR is the current landowner.

“The DOH provided no assistance in giving us any parameters of how far out we have to go, what is the contamination, anything,” Uchida told the board. “So we’re left basically with a citation. We hire a consultant to do the samples, determine the level, come up with a mitigation plan that’s acceptable to the DOH, and encapsulate the site. At the same time, [we] go after Amfac.”

Whether or not that’s possible remains to be seen. Uchida could not provide answers to board members’ questions about the statute of limitations that applied to damages resulting from hazardous waste.

Several members of the board had been under the impression that the state had owned the land when it was contaminated. Uchida corrected them: “We bought this land from Campbell,” he said, adding that the property was purchased with “a release against Campbell. We bought it as-is.” Complicating matters further, Uchida said, was the fact that Amfac was now claiming the contamination pre-dated its own occupancy of the land, going back to the days of Castle & Cooke’s ʻEwa Plantation, which Amfac bought out in 1970.

The current board may be forgiven its ignorance of the history of the site. None of the current members had been appointed when the purchase was approved by the board in 1991. At the time, no one on the board knew of the contamination; members were just trying to help out a struggling sugar plantation.

Saving Sugar

Castle & Cooke chartered the ʻEwa Plantation in 1890, which grew cane on land owned by James Campbell. Over the next 80 years, it employed state-of-the-art chemicals in controlling pests and treating seed. In 1970, Amfac’s Oʻahu Sugar Company, Ltd., bought the plantation and the ʻEwa Sugar Mill in 1970. Two years later, it closed the mill, tearing down part of it and selling off the rest.

Oʻahu Sugar continued growing cane, and over the next few decades had several brushes with the Department of Health for storage and disposal of pesticides and related problems, but it was fined for just three violations: two for discharges into Pearl Harbor and one for improper use of the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate. The violations came at a time when the sugar lands were being picked apart by developers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, sugar in Central Oʻahu was making way for the birth of a new city: Kapolei.

But it was a birth with complications – most of which may be traced to the continuing presence of cane on lands targeted for urbanization. Protecting sugar became an important card in the political gamesmanship of the time.

On June 1, 1990, former Oʻahu Sugar employee Hiroshi Yamashita wrote a letter to then Governor John Waihʻ`e about then-Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi’s plans to use cane land in ʻEwa for affordable housing in the Kapolei/ʻEwa area. Concerned about the survival of cane, Yamashita urged the governor to get Campbell Estate, which owned land occupied by Oʻahu Sugar, to negotiate more favorable lease rents with Amfac, which had itself been recently acquired by Chicago realty firm JMB. Yamashita also asked the governor to express to Campbell Estate trustees the state’s strong support of keeping the leeward plain in sugar.

In his response, Waiheʻe echoed Yamashita’s concerns for the future of Oʻahu Sugar, which he described as “a major contributor to the diversified economic base of the City & County of Honolulu”

“I was appalled, as any reasonable person would be, when Mayor Fasi made his threat to do all in his power to make sure the sugar operation is closed down,” Waiheʻe continued. “Affordable housing can be developed without sacrificing the prime agricultural lands upon which the sugar industry depends.

“In that regard, you may be interested to know that the state has recently taken steps to acquire a major portion of land under the Oʻahu Sugar Co., in part to assist its future survival. This action will express better than mere words my support of the sugar industry. Of course, I expect that Campbell Estate will also do its part by entering into lease negotiations for Oʻahu Sugar Company lands with Amfac/JMB.”

Legislatures at the tail end of the 1980s and in 1990 had appropriated tens of millions of dollars ($41 million for 1987-88, and $20 million for 1988-89) to the DLNR to acquire Campbell Estate lands in `Ewa “for purposes of preserving agriculture and developing housing infrastructure, and public facilities.”

In 1991, Campbell Estate agreed sell the state its Campbell Raceway Park, a feedlot, and about 1,100 acres of sugar lands farmed by Oʻahu Sugar Company.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the transfer on April 26, 1991. Then Land Division administrator Mason Young told that board that the DLNR wanted the 1,100 acres “so it could be kept in cane and work with Oʻahu Sugar to sustain their cane operation.” (Land Board members at that time were John Arizumi of Maui, Herbert Apaka of Kauaʻi, at-large member Sharon Himeno, Big Island member Chris Yuen, and Chairman Bill Paty, a retired plantation manager. The seat for the Oʻahu Land Board member was vacant when the vote was taken.)

Acquisition of the raceway and feedlot turned out to be a bust when it surfaced that Waiheʻe had illegally used airport funds to purchase the two properties. Waiheʻe was further suspected of having bought the raceway in the first place not as a relocation site for businesses displaced by the Honolulu airport’s expansion, but rather as a favor to raceway operator and friend Thomas Enomoto. Waiheʻe himself frequently took to the track. To resolve the problem, the state then went through a long, highly publicized land exchange with Campbell and was forced to restore to the airport fund the $65 million it illegally took. The outcome of this process was the state’s acquisition of about 200 acres mauka of H-1, future site of the West Oʻahu campus of the University of Hawai`i.

The 1,100-acre ag parcel, called the Golden Triangle property for its high productivity, escaped media scrutiny then because it had been purchased legally with funds appropriated by the Legislature. For it, the state paid $31,700,000 – nearly $30,000 an acre — and agreed to accept the property “as is.”

Land Banking

Saving sugar wasn’t the only reason behind the purchase. By the early 1990s, the writing was on the wall, and cane was going the way of the dinosaur, despite industry and government efforts to keep it on artificial life support. Since 1985, sugarcane acreage throughout the state had been decreasing steadily. Another, ulterior motive drove the acquisition: the state’s competition with the city to acquire land for future development.

In the early 1990s, then-Mayor Fasi had plans to sell the city’s West Loch golf course for about $100 million and to build two more golf courses along with “affordable” housing in the area. For those developments, the mayor sought to condemn 800 acres of Campbell Estate lands, although the estate was willing to part with something closer to 300 acres.

At the same time, the state sought to condemn Campbell lands for its Kapolei Village development, which was initially a joint state-city project. An April 6, 1990, letter from DLNR director Paty to Waiheʻe suggests that the state sought to beat out the city by filing for condemnation first, thereby securing land for its own projects – and, at the same time, foiling any chance that Fasi might gain politically from promises to build affordable housing and public golf courses on the Campbell land.

“If Campbell permits the filing of condemnation by the state of 2,269 acres, the likely scenario is that our current funding would only permit the acquisition of approximately ý the parcel. Therefore, we would probably settle the case by taking 1,200 or 1,300 acres and obtaining a long-term lease of the remaining acreage, if possible to assure the viability of sugar in this area. With the state as lessee, the city would be reluctant to condemn this area and would be forced to consider acquiring lands in central Oʻahu (Mililani mauka).”

Paty continued, “Unless the state files condemnation quickly, the [city] council has no reasonable explanation to the public at large for not acquiring land for low-cost housing and public golf courses. It is our impression from some council members that if the state were to include in the condemnation some of the 800 acres the mayor wants it would swing the vote necessary to disapprove the city’s move for the West Bluff Project.

“The proposal for settlement would leave Campbell with a considerable amount of land under their control without a concern that the city may acquire the property.”

In a separate memo of the same date, Paty reported to Waiheʻe a conversation he had just had with Campbell Estate trustee Fred Trotter. Trotter, Paty wrote, “favors our proceeding with the condemnation suit and then sitting down to work out how best we can address the various problems involved, i.e., water, sewage Oʻahu Sugar Co., UH campus, etc.”

The 1991 agreement between the estate, the state and Oʻahu Sugar set a price of $28,818 an acre for the Golden Triangle’s 1,100 acres and included restrictions through the year 2007 on the state’s use of the land. For every 1,000 houses built in the area, the state would be allowed to develop just two acres for commercial use. Campbell Estate also made sure that the state would not compete with its private golf courses by prohibiting the state from developing any for 16 years.

Finally, Campbell made “no representation or warranty” regarding substances that might be on property or concerning any legal consequences. “State acknowledges that it is aware that Oʻahu Sugar Company, Limited, has been operating a sugar plantation on the Golden Triangle Property, which may have used fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides and at times the use of oily substances for dust control and state has been informed concerning the deposit of soil allegedly containing diesel fuel onto and the spreading of allegedly oily substances onto feedlot and Hawaiʻi Raceway Park respectively. State confirms to estate that state has made such investigation of facts concerning the physical condition of the property as state deemed appropriate and is thoroughly familiar with the property,” the agreement stated.

Passing Ships

But other studies and state documents from the same period suggest that the state was anything but “thoroughly familiar with the property.” Or, if it did have such familiarity, the state was deliberately turning a blind eye to the contamination.

In August 1990, R.M. Towill submitted an Environmental Assessment to the Land Board covering 2,284 acres in East Kapolei, roughly the area referred to by Paty in his letter to Waihe`e the previous April. The property could be developed for residential, commercial, park and other uses, the 18-page EA stated, but the immediate use would remain the same: “After the state purchases the land, it will be leased back to Oʻahu Sugar Company for the continued cultivation of sugar cane until a decision is reached as to the future use of the land.”

Because the land’s use would not change, “no environmental impacts are anticipated,” the EA states. Conspicuously absent from the list of parties consulted in preparation of the assessment was the state Department of Health.

The document made no mention of possible hazardous waste or pesticide contamination and cursorily addressed such issues as air quality, climate, flora and fauna, noise, scenic and visual resources, and soil characteristics. But while the DLNR was busying itself with acquisition procedures, a few state agencies had developed other interests in the area.

In 1990, the University of Hawaiʻi’s Department of Agricultural Biochemistry and the state Department of Agriculture published the study, “Soil and Water Contamination at Pesticide Mixing and Loading Sites on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi.” The study reported the findings of a team of scientists who, in 1989, took soil cores and water samples from areas near two pineapple and sugarcane pesticide mixing and loading sites, one of which was on the land to be acquired by the state. The site lies atop the island’s main drinking water source, the Honolulu-Pearl Harbor Aquifer.

Oʻahu Sugarʻs old pesticide mixing and loading site in East Kapolei.

According to the study, atrazine and its breakdown product, de-ethylated atrazine, had already contaminated potable water sources in Hawai`i. DDT, DDE, DDD, diuron, atrazine, terbacil, ametryn, and haxazione were found at the sugarcane pesticide mixing and loading site. In one test hole, concentrations of atrazine and ametryn were “very high and significant concentrations were observed in the deepest sample (244-274 cm),” the report stated. A well water sample about 2.5 kilometers downgradient also had detectable concentrations of atrazine and ametryn.

“Further water sampling is needed to determine if the pesticide mixing and loading site is contributing significantly to non-point sources of these herbicides,” the UH report said.

Soon after Land Board approval of the purchase, the Department of Health began poking into the history of the site. At a DOH workshop in September 1991, staff from the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Housing mentioned the ʻEwa Mill/Oʻahu Sugar Company lands. A month later, the area was classified as a potential hazardous waste site and was entered into the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System. According to the DOH, a former sugar employee informed the agency that the Oʻahu Sugar had stored there the hazardous chemicals DDT and Chlordane.

As a result of these developments, the federal EPA had the DOH conduct a preliminary assessment, as provided for by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as the Superfund law. In November 1991, the DOH began asking Oʻahu Sugar Company for information about the ʻEwa Sugar Mill and its pesticide mixing and loading area.


In March 1993, the DOH published its preliminary assessment:

“According to company officials and other DOH sources, most of the information relating to operations under ʻEwa Plantation Company were lost during the transfer of ownership to Oʻahu Sugar Company, Limited. Although there is no documented information on the use of hazardous substances at the ʻEwa Sugar Mill with either Oʻahu Sugar or the DOH, a former employee of Oʻahu Sugar company reported that the area across Renton Road was used and the company’s cement yard and a storage shed in the yard was used by the plantation to store fumigation material and equipment. The company was involved in fumigating the plantation homes for pests such as termites. The fumigation process included the use of DDT, Chlordane, Malathion, and Pyrethrin. These pesticides were mixed with odorless kerosene or diesel, and burned. The smoke was then fogged into the sealed homes,” it stated.

“The pesticide storage, mixing and loading source was first used in 1953É. In 1988, the Hawaʻi Department of Agriculture conducted a statewide study of pesticide mixing sites as part of a report to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. The Oʻahu Sugar Company Pesticide source was part of the investigation. The study relating to the source reports that ‘mix runoff, spill, or rinse water was discharged onto surrounding ground area.’ It also states that ‘a strong likelihood of groundwater contamination exists.’ According to company officials, the plantation used between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds of herbicides a month.”

The area of contaminated soil at the mixing/loading site, according to the assessment, is 18 feet by 100 feet and extends to a depth of nine feet. Of the three sites surveyed, the pesticide mixing and loading site “appears to pose a greater threat to public health and the environment,” the assessment found, because 17 drinking water wells, serving about 115,329 residents, are within four miles of the site. The site is also a few miles from wetland areas that provide habitat of four endangered water birds.

Blind Acceptance

While the DOH was conducting its assessment, the DLNR’s acquisition of the property was being held up by Oʻahu Sugar, the very party intended as the beneficiary of the purchase. The company was seeking compensation from the state for crop damages resulting from the condemnation. Litigation over this matter held up the state’s possession of the land for some three years beyond the date of Land Board approval. Not until July 19, 1994, was a Stipulated Final Judgment in Eminent Domain signed by the state, the sugar company, and Campbell attorneys, with the Final Order of Condemnation dated August 22, 1994. The Stipulated Final Judgment included several conditions governing the state’s acceptance of the property. One of them said that since the acquisition was by condemnation, or “involuntary conversion,” Campbell Estate did not have to disclose any information it may have had on the condition of the land or make any guarantee concerning its potential for development. It was up to the state to satisfy itself concerning the property’s condition, the judgment states.

“The values arrived at in settlement of the condemnations were arrived at after state made such investigations as it deemed appropriate and shall be in no way affected by any matter which is unknown to and is later discovered by state,” it continues. A 1989 appraisal of the property, which did not consider possible contamination that might affect the land’s value, assessed the land’s value at $19,900 per acre. When the state finally acquired the land, the purchase price was nearly $10,000 an acre higher than that.

Scarcely had the ink on the conveyance documents dried when the DLNR started to consider an exchange of 500 acres of its new land for 2,100 agricultural acres in Wahiawa land owned by the Galbraith Trust – an exchange that would have brought even more contaminated lands under DLNR’s jurisdiction. The motivation for the exchange was to increase the DLNR’s agricultural acreage, since much of the ʻEwa land was intended for development.

The Galbraith land had recently been designated part of a Superfund site by the EPA. The skimpy, nine-page environmental assessment for the exchange done by the DLNR made no mention of this. Fortunately for the state, Governor Ben Cayetano vetoed the exchange, approved by the Legislature. In a veto message of June 19, 1995, he wrote: “If the state were to proceed with the exchange, as the new owner of part of the Del Monte Superfund site, it would be liable under the Superfund law for the costs of clean-upÉThe value of the Galbraith Estate land is unquestionably lessened because of its new status as a Superfund site; proceeding with the exchange can no longer be done consistent with the legislative intent of [the vetoed] Act 177, that the exchanged lands be of substantially equal value. Instead the exchange would expose the state to enormous liability.”


In April 1997, nearly three years after the state’s acquisition of the Golden Triangle, the Department of Health approached Campbell Estate for permission to collect soil samples for a site inspection report on the pesticide plant. Under CERCLA, the site inspection is the step following a preliminary assessment. To the DOH’s surprise, the estate responded, “Unfortunately, the Estate does not own the land. The land you mention is currently owned by the State of Hawaiʻi.”

The DOH proceeded with the soil sampling. As the samples were being analyzed, in October 1997, the Land Board approved issuance of a revocable permit allowing Aloun Farm onto the property to grow truck crops. In the DNLR staff report, it’s clear that the DLNR had no inkling that the land was being investigated by the DOH. (The report was written by Land Agent Cecil Santos and signed by then-deputy director and current DLNR director Coloma-Agaran.)

Not until January 7, 1998, when Amy Baylor of the Health Department’s Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response office called the Land Division’s Glenn Taguchi did the DLNR have a clue.

“I asked about the mixing/loading site and on whose property it sits. He doesn’t know and isn’t familiar with the area. He said a land exchange with Campbell Estate just finished in 1997. They got two parcels: “but offhand [he] wasn’t sure where,” Baylor wrote in a contact log.

Over the next two years, Land Division staff worked with the DOH on repairing a broken gate that provided access to the site. Months later, DOH found the gate open with its locks torn off. The division also coordinated with DOH and EPA on dioxin soil tests and discussed what further steps the DLNR needed to take.

In July 2000, the DOH completed its site inspection. HEER’s Amy Playdon and Ross Kuge had conducted interviews with many people who worked in Oʻahu’s sugar industry to find out what chemicals were used when and by whom. Many were tight-lipped and those who did talk often contradicted what others said. One former worker has said Oʻahu Sugar Company used pentachlorophenol (PCP) and 2,4,5-T; another said the company used neither because they were banned.

The site inspection found dioxins, pentachlorophenol, atrazine, trifluralin, and arsenic levels exceeded EPA allowable levels, as well as a more than twenty other contaminants below EPA levels. A field to the north of the site that, at the time, was growing corn, had levels of dioxin contamination as well. (Dioxin is a contaminant in pentachlorophenol.) However, the DOH concluded that no further CERCLA evaluations were needed, based on three reasons: First, no drinking wells were in jeopardy of contamination, since the nearest drinking water wells are more than two miles upgradient of the site and draw from a source unlikely to be affected by the site. Second, the nearest stream is about two-thirds of a mile away. And third, no day care centers, schools or residences are found within 200 feet of the site.

Is it possible that other areas in the parcel might contain hazardous waste left over from the sugar plantation?

“Anything is possible,” Playdon says. “However, if there is contamination above action levels from legal application of pesticides (which does not appear to be the case based upon four our samples [taken from nearby fields]), it cannot be investigated under CERCLA. If someone has dumped or spilled or disposed of a chemical somewhere out in the field, the only way we would know about it is if someone came to us and specifically told us about it (which is unlikely).”

She did, however, state in a July 2000 letter to the EPA that, “there appears to have been an uncontrolled release of a hazardous substance as defined by the Hawaii Environmental Response Law,” something that may make “this site É eligible for further action under state law.”

A Different Approach

While the state may feel hampered in going after Campbell and Amfac, the city, which found itself in a similar situation, has been pulling out all the stops.

In the early 1990s, the city condemned 590 acres of Campbell Estate land at ʻEwa Villages as part of the revitalization project designed to provide affordable housing for residents of the plantation villages; to preserve the historic character of the fading lifestyle, and to build houses to meet a growing demand. In June 1992, the city took possession of the land and a couple of weeks later paid $16,283,166 – about $27,600 an acre — for it. The final condemnation judgment was not signed until 1995.

Unlike the state, the city’s condemnation agreement did not release Campbell Estate or “any other parties from any environmental liability and instead provided that any liability for environmental problems ‘found to exist on or affect the property’ was to be determined in accordance with pertinent federal or state law,” according to court documents filed by the city.

A 1993 Environmental Site Assessment by city contractor Brewer Environmental Services, Inc. discovered significant contamination. By 2000, city consultants had identified eight contaminated or possibly contaminated sites. The city then filed lawsuits in federal and state courts against Campbell Estate trustees, Oʻahu Sugar, and various Doe entities. The state lawsuit was stayed in May 2000 to allow the federal suit to take its course.

A memorandum the city has filed in the federal case describes the extent of contamination. The eight sites include the former mill’s processing site where “residual pesticides and sugar processing make this a potential source of contamination;” the area around the mill’s electrical room, where surface soils contain PCBs over allowable levels; an area southwest of the ʻEwa Sugar Mill site, where “trenching by Oʻahu Construction Company found petroleum hydrocarbon contamination to depths of twenty feet”; land along Renton Road that “contains the highest levels of hydrocarbon contamination as well as the most extensive soil contamination for the sugar mill area”; the area in and around a storage shed where chemical mixing took place; another former pesticide mixing area that has stained surface soils and pesticide contamination; an area where sewer excavation occurred; and the former mill painting site.

The city has already spent more than $2 million to clean, investigate, monitor and test the land, and the meter is still running. “Investigation and assessment costs are continuing to be incurred,” the city stated in federal court documents.

But while the city is pointing the finger at Campbell and Oʻahu Sugar, the defendants are protesting their innocence.

The city has cited several environmental studies done over the years that place much of the blame on the sugar plantation. But in a January 26, 2001 court filing, Oʻahu Sugar and another co-defendant, Northbrook, state that the city fails to show that they are potentially responsible parties. (Northbrook for a time grew pineapples on part of the Campbell lands.) They call the city’s evidence “unauthenticated and inadmissible” and say that its environmental studies, “if admissible, can confirm only that at the time they were done, in the early to mid-1990s, contamination was present at the site. Both the source(s) and extent of the contamination remain unknown.”

The contamination could have come from anybody, they imply, and cite a report that the city itself commissioned that found “an apparent commingling of contaminants from present businesses with over 100 years of prior sugar cane mill activity… The work of BES [Brewer Environmental Services] is preliminary, indicating the presence, but not the extent, of the contamination plumes found at the site.”

Oʻahu Sugar and Northbrook add that the city’s claims “are barred by Hawaiʻi’s two-year statute of limitations applicable to property damage claims.” More than two years passed between the city’s acquisition of the land and its filing of the complaint in October 1999; under state law, they say, action for compensation for property damage must be made within two years of the damage.

“The city had actual as well as presumptive knowledge that sugar mill operations were conducted on the property and that those operations might form the basis for its claims in this lawsuit since the time it commenced condemnation of the property in the early 1990s, if not earlier,” the companies state.

The Bigger Picture

Charlene Unoki, the DLNR land agent overseeing the Aloun Farm permit, says that as far as she knows, this is the first time the DLNR has dealt with leftover contamination from the sugar industry. But it is certain not to be the last time.

The DLNR is already awaiting the results of DOH investigations into other state lands leased by Amfac for sugar cultivation. Depending on what the DOH finds, the state may pursue damages against Amfac. The DOH is conducting CERCLA investigations of Kekaha and Lihuʻe plantations on Kauaʻi, as well as Maui’s Pioneer Mill site.

Two of the sites are undergoing PA/SI, where the preliminary assessment and site inspection are done concurrently. Done separately, the two-step process could take several years to complete; it took eight years to complete the `Ewa Mill PA and SI. When combined, the process can take only between a year and a year and a half to complete, Playdon says.

“In this case we have enough experience with sugar operations to know that a site inspection is warranted,” she said. As for the ʻEwa site, the DLNR has opted to give the job to the state Department of Accounting and General Services instead of hiring a private consultant. While the scope of work is unknown, it probably will not extend far beyond the pesticide mixing and loading site. As Unoki told Environment Hawaiʻi, “The DOH wanted us to hire someone to spray cement to control dust.”

Playdon says that the DLNR must also delineate the area of contamination in width and depth. Capping the site with cement is a temporary measure to control the movement of soil.

As of mid-June, neither the DLNR nor DAGS had fleshed out any details concerning the project’s scope, schedule, cost or funding sources.

Should the state ever develop the area as planned, Playdon says the DLNR would have to take further action – perhaps build a parking lot over the contaminated site or completely remediate the site to the point where contaminant concentrations are below maximum levels allowable for unrestricted use.

Still to be considered is what lies beneath the topsoil. A good portion of the contamination the city is dealing with was found after excavation began. The U.S. Navy, which also has a former Oʻahu Sugar pesticide mixing and loading site on its land in Waipiʻo Penninsula, “has no plans to develop or lease out the site because of its questionable suitability due to former activities that occurred on this parcel of land,” DOH documents state.

Development of the state’s land lies far off in the future. When the time comes, the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaiʻi will carry out the state’s plans, which at one time included infrastructure development for over 8,000 housing units, schools and parks on the Golden Triangle. “HFDC would then sell the land to a private developer to construct housing, and use the proceeds to help fund construction of the [West Oʻahu] campus,” states an EA for the North-South Road.

Leo Domingo, project coordinator for HCDCH, says that project has “taken a back seat.”

“The economic climate has definitely hampered our efforts to develop the property,” he said. “When will the property be developed? It’s pretty much up in the air. There’s not much we can do. It’s hard to tell you we’re going to do something ten years from now, when the economic climate is getting worse.”

So, any hidden surprises underground will stay hidden for now and Aloun Farm will keep farming. Its workers know about the mixing/loading site; they pass by it every day, although at some distance. (The DLNR has told them to stay at least 50 feet away.)

The DLNR has asked its deputy attorney general for help going after Amfac. As for those involved with the land’s acquisition, Unoki says, “Most of the people are not here anymore.”

— Teresa Dawson

Volume 12, Number 1 July 2001

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *