‘Evironmental disaster:’ HI residents want answers over molasses spill

DISASTER: The molasses spill impacted sealife in Ke’ehi Lagoon, seen here, and Honolulu Harbor

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — State lawmakers aren’t returning to work until Oct. 28 for a special session, but residents aren’t waiting for answers.

More than 2,000 Hawaiians have contacted their legislators about two key issues — gay marriage and a molasses spill Sept. 9 in Honolulu Harbor, deemed by the Sierra Club as “one of the worst environmental disasters in Hawaii’s history.”

While the debate over whether to legalize marriage between gay couples is controversial — Gov. Neil Abercrombie is convening the special session to debate the issue — lawmakers have actually received more letters from people upset over the 233,000-gallon spill.

Some 26,000 fish were killed, and the reefs at Honolulu Harbor and the nearby Keehi Lagoon were destroyed.

The Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter launched a campaign Wednesday demanding accountability from Matson Navigation, the shipping company that owns the pipe from which the molasses leaked. Matson is Hawaii’s largest shipping company, responsible for the transport of about 85 percent of container-shipped goods to the islands from mainland states.

Sierra Club said on its website: “Matson spilled 233,000 gallons of molasses into our ocean; killed at least 26,000 fish; and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in Hawaii’s history. But Matson ‘can’t say’ whether they will commit to cleaning up Honolulu Harbor? Let’s hold Matson accountable. Let’s make sure they pay for the damage they caused.”

MOLASSES KILL: Dead fish picked up on the beach at Ke’ehi Lagoon.

State senators have, at last count, gotten 1,539 emails from residents about the spill and 272 emails from supporters of gay marriage; 602 in opposition.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health are jointly investigating the molasses spill.

Tenants of Honolulu Harbor must inspect their own pipelines. The Department of Transportation notified Matson about a possible leak in July 2012, but Matson officials checked the pipe and did not find a problem. State workers noticed a leak in May but didn’t tell Matson.

The spill has cost state and federal taxpayers millions.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, promised Gov. Neil Abercrombie federal money to cover expenses related to the spill.

So far, Hawaii lawmakers have not said whether they will address the spill during the upcoming special session.

Reach Malia Zimmerman at [email protected]

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