The county Department of Water Supply followed its regular policies and procedures in awarding spigot permits for commercial water haulers in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, the county’s legislative auditor told the Water Board in a recent letter.
Auditor Bonnie Nims said in the June 14 letter that her office terminated an audit requested by a 2012 County Council resolution. The resolution, by former Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart, followed a community uproar alleging the permits, which were issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, created a water monopoly in their area.
The permits were issued for a newly installed well and standpipe, and apparently have no expiration date. But the contracts the water haulers signed to get a meter at the standpipe facility allows the department to revoke the contract at any time.
“We have completed our preliminary survey regarding the proposed performance audit and our review did not identify any significant threats or risk areas,” Nims said in the letter.
Still, she added, “Given our commitment to oversight of the County of Hawaii, we may re-announce this audit at a later date.”
DWS Manager Quirino Antonio characterized the letter as “business as usual, right now.”
“We have complied with the procedures that we had in place,” Antonio said. “The water haulers have been doing their thing, running their business.”
The Water Department’s customary practice allows water haulers to pay fees and purchase permits for water spigots when they become available. It opened up the 10 permits for the HOVE system at 8 a.m. one day in 2012 after advertising the availability through newspaper ads, online and through community meetings. More than 10 people were standing in line when the office opened to issue permits, so some would-be vendors left empty-handed.
That caused disgruntlement in the rural community, where residents said the price of water hauling was kept at artificially high levels. County Council got involved and asked for the audit.
“I handled many incoming calls from constituents who were upset about the continued high cost for water hauling after the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates standpipe had been activated,” Smart’s legislative assistant, Nelson Ho, said at the time.
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who now represents the district, said Tuesday she sympathizes with residents in the area, but there’s not much the council can do about it. The Department of Water Supply is under the authority of the Water Board, a semi-autonomous body.
“While I personally don’t like the way the original assignment of spigots was done, it’s totally out of the control of the County Council to do anything,” Ford said.
Water Board members seemed satisfied Monday that the department followed procedures, although several asked whether the legislative auditor did indeed plan to take another look at the situation in the future.
“It leaves them open to come in and complete the audit,” said Chairman Ken Kaneshiro. “I thought those statements were very unusual.”
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