Senate to weigh bills spurred by molasses spill

Honolulu Star Advertiser - March 9, 2014
Marcel Honore

A trio of molasses spill-­related fixes to Hawaii law have cleared the state House and have landed in the Senate.

Bill 2621, which passed the House on Tuesday, would set time limits to respond to any issues raised between the state and companies that lease its facilities, including those at Hono­lulu Harbor.

It joins Bill 2620, which would update Hawaii's 1996 state report on oil spills to include other potential contaminants such as molasses, and Bill 2622, which would establish a "coral reef and marine life conservation special fund" used by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to help conserve and restore damaged marine environments. Both previously passed in the House.

The Senate leadership has assigned all three bills to several of the chamber's environmental, education and finance committees for consideration.

"It's good that this legislation is coming over to the Senate. I'll be following these bills closely and definitely plan to hold hearings on any of the ones referred to the Energy and Environment Committee," Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of that committee, said in an email Tuesday. Bill 2620 was later referred to that panel.

He added, "Anything to better prepare us for freak accidents, like what happened with the molasses spill, and protect our marine life is the way to go."

The bills advance as the public continues to wait for more details on what caused last fall's devastating leak of the syrupy substance into Hono­lulu Harbor — and the full scope of the damage it wreaked on the marine life.

Matson Inc., which took responsibility for the spill, plans to release findings about what caused the disaster — but officials with the shipping company say they're unable to issue that report while state and federal officials conduct their own investigations.

"Even as we wait for the results of the federal and state investigations in progress right now, these measures will help us ensure stronger accountability by the government agencies involved as well as better communications with our outside contractors," Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kai­lua-Lani­kai-Wai­ma­nalo), chairman of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, said in a statement Wednesday.

A fourth bill would provide the state Attorney General's Office with up to $700,000 in emergency funds, partly to help pursue claims against Matson for the extensive damage that the spill caused.

The damage from the spill is expected to "far outweigh" the $7.5 million in damage caused in the 2009 grounding of the cruiser USS Port Royal, according to a state report.

The House bill, 2248, was referred to the Senate Ways and Means, and Judiciary and Labor committees in February.

In written testimony, the Attorney General's Office estimates it will cost nearly $1.7 million to pursue the molasses spill claims.