Rep. Chris Lee speaks to journalists from a lectern at the Hawaii Capitol in Honolulu on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Lee is one of several lawmakers suggesting any fines or settlements the state collects for ocean spills be put toward restoring coral reefs. (AP Photo/Oskar Garcia)
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii lawmakers are responding to last year’s molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor by suggesting any fines or settlements the state collects for ocean spills be put toward restoring coral reefs.
Rep. Chris Lee said Monday that the proposed special fund for the Department of Land and Natural Resources is one of several changes the state can make to prevent or respond more efficiently to future spills.
“There are concrete steps that we can take now to ensure that this never happens again while we wait for investigations to conclude,” the Democrat representing Kailua said at a news conference.
The special fund is one of three bills proposed because of the spill. One measure would call on the University of Hawaii to update a 1996 report that outlined the state’s emergency response plans in case of an oil spill. Another would require contractors to quickly report lost, stolen or damaged property to government agencies that administer the contracts.
Lee, chairman of the House environmental committee, introduced the measures in the House, and Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced them in the Senate.
“The bottom line is that government and industry was not prepared to deal with this freak accident,” said Gabbard, chairman of the Senate’s environmental committee.
The state may take more steps depending on the results of an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the lawmakers said.
EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi in Honolulu said the agency’s investigation is pending and there’s no timetable for when it will be completed.
Spokesman Jeff Hull of Matson Inc., the carrier responsible for the spill, said it is cooperating with the investigation but doesn’t know when it will be finished.
The spill in September killed more than 26,000 fish and other marine life, with about 1,400 tons of molasses dumped into the harbor.
The sugary substance oozed from a section of pipe that was thought to be sealed off. It sunk to the bottom of the harbor, suffocating marine life and discoloring the water.
The transport of molasses isn’t specifically regulated, unlike oil, gasoline and other chemicals, state officials have said.
Matson said in reporting its third-quarter earnings in November that it spent $1.3 million in response costs, legal expenses and third-party claims, but hadn’t received a government accounting of reimbursement claims. Matson is expected to report its results for the October-December quarter in February.