Keehi lagoon molassas spill-e.miles1

Honolulu Harbor molasses spill: one year later

In the months since the spill, no lawsuit or fines have been levied against Matson and there is no word on when the company will be held accountable.

Manjari Fergusson

One year since the massive molasses spill at Honolulu Harbor, one of Hawaiʻi’s worst environmental disasters ever, the state has still not brought forth a lawsuit or fines against Matson, the entity responsible for the mess.

An old pipe that Matson was using to pump molasses into its containers leaked over 233,000 gallons into Honolulu Harbor, affecting over 25,000 fish and other sea life in the harbor and Keʻehi Lagoon. The leak was noticed on Sept. 9.

The state and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began an investigation as to what fines Matson would need to pay for the spill, but a year later it’s still ongoing.

According to a spokesperson for the Attorney General (AG), Matson and the state have been actively working together to resolve the matter without litigation. “These are really complex issues, the investigation of the damage and what happened has taken a considerable amount of time, completing that is taking a while. Matson and the state have exchanged thousands of pages of documents.”

The AG’s office could not give a timeline on when the issue will be resolved. Gary Gill, the deputy environmental health director, says the state has made “significant progress” in evaluating all the claims against Matson.

“While the state of Hawaiʻi has shared the details of the spill and the damage that it caused with state and federal governments, there remains very little scientific knowledge about why molasses was so toxic to Oʻahu’s marine environment,” Gill said.  “Methods to clean up molasses after it spills, or reduce its impact on sea life have not yet been developed.”

Dean Higuchi, a spokesperson for the EPA, echoed the AG and told The Independent, “we’re still investigating and getting more information. … [There’s] no real timeline. We’re trying to make sure we get what we can and then see what’s next.”

According to Gill, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is responsible for doing damage assessment of the harbor and determining the condition of the area today, if it is back to pre-spill conditions and if the marine life has come back. However, DLNR would not comment, citing the incident as a legal matter in the hands of the AG.

A Matson spokesperson said that since suspending its Sand Island molasses operations last September, the company is cooperating fully with the investigations by state and federal agencies.

But with no official word yet on any penalties being brought against Matson, the Sierra Club has set up a petition calling for Matson to be accountable for the damage.

Fortunately, news reports have noted that marine life has to the area in the months since the spill.

Since last year, Matson has paid out $230,000 to 22 businesses that filed claims that they were affected by the spill.

Under the Clean Water Act, there are several penalties that could possibly be charged to Matson, potentially resulting in about $280,000 worth of fines.