(August 2021) By Justin Jacques, Water Environment Federation. On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, efforts have been underway since 2015 to establish a stormwater utility that would charge each of the island’s property owners a monthly fee based on the amount of impervious area their land contains. The decision would provide Honolulu and its neighboring municipalities with a new, dedicated funding source for projects that aim to discourage flooding, protect local water quality, and enhance climate change resilience.
Randall Wakumoto, civil engineer for the City and County of Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance (DFM), explained during a July 15 Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Stormwater Institute webcast that although the new utility would address “one of the biggest threats to the island’s sustainability and resilience,” the proposition of a new fee has faced considerable opposition. For example, in February 2021, members of the Hawaii House of Representatives introduced a bill that would exempt all state-owned properties from any fees imposed by the new utility.
Proponents of the exemption described in written testimonials that state-owned properties, particularly airports and harbors owned by the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), are already subject to an array of regulatory requirements for stormwater management and that an additional fee based on impervious space would be unnecessarily burdensome. Detractors, however, argued that exempting state-owned properties would place additional financial stress on Oahu’s residents, whose taxes currently make up roughly 75% of the City and County of Honolulu’s stormwater management budget. Financial documents from an advisory group driving the utility’s establishment state that residential properties own 85% of the island’s parcels, but only about 44% of its impervious area.
“The bill eventually died and was not passed during this year’s legislative session,” Wakumoto said. “However, it did shed some light on the subject of how a stormwater utility would affect various state properties, and what alternatives could be considered to allow for a working relationship to exist between the county and the state government.”
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