Matson, EPA settlement resolves 2013 molasses spill into Honolulu Harbor

Local News

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday a settlement with Matson Terminals, Inc. over federal Clean Water Act violations relating to a September 2013 molasses spill into Honolulu Harbor.

In September 2013, a pipe that was used to load molasses onto a Matson ship cracked, dumping 233,000 gallons into the water. The EPA says the spill occurred from a section of pipe that the Hawaii Department of Transportation found was leaking in 2012, and reported to Matson.

The sugary substance cut off the oxygen in the water, suffocating approximately 25,000 fish. It was considered the worst environmental disaster in state history.

Matson has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $725,000.

“One of the key main points out of this whole situation, we lost a lot of environmental wildlife,” said Dean Higuchi with the EPA. “Coral reefs were damaged, so the main point here is for dockside facilities to ensure they maintain their facilities and ensure they do not discharge or spill or pollute the navigable waters or ocean waters near shore.”

Matson’s EPA settlement is in addition to a $15.4 million settlement with the state in 2015, and $600,000 in an earlier restitution as ordered by a judge in 2014, after the company pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor criminal charges in federal court. The $600,000 was divided equally between the Waikiki Aquarium to support coral reef programs and invasive algae cleanups and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii to inspire local communities to care for coastlines through beach cleanups.

For the state settlement, the payments broke down as follows:

$5.9 million to:

  • Regrow a coral nursery in a different location than Oahu’s Sand Island Terminal to help replace the coral that had been damaged or destroyed;
  • Reimburse the State for clean-up, response, investigative, administrative and legal costs arising from the September 2013 molasses spill;

    Contribute to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in 2016 in Hawaii; and

$9.5 million to:

  • Remove the molasses tank farm and existing pier risers from the molasses pipeline at Oahu’s Sand Island Terminal;
  • Safely dispose of any remaining molasses in the molasses tank farm and molasses pipeline; and
  • Convert the remaining portions of the pipeline for uses other than conveying fluids.

With the shutdown of Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company’s sugar operations on Maui last year marking the end of Hawaii’s sugar industry, Higuchi says “there really is no more molasses to be shipped out.”

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