Honolulu Star Bulletin 9/29/01)
By Ray Pendleton
For a number of years, I've attempted to make a case for the expanded use of street sweepers on O`ahu.
For an urban community surrounded by ocean, their use has always seemed to me to be the most logical and direct method of capturing the pollution from our roadways before it can enter our water ways.
Such pollution is not only the omnipresent trash-bergs of Styrofoam cups and plastic bags, but the unseen runoff of pesticides, fertilizers and animal waste, along with the automotive contaminants of petroleum products and residue from tires and brake pads.
Because my case has been based on just personal observations and not on scientific studies, I have offered it up as just one suggestion among many for combating ocean pollution.
You can then understand my elation at receiving a reprint of a recent story by Los Angeles Times staff writers Stanley Allison and Seema Mehta that strongly supports my position.
"Street sweepers stage comeback," it begins. "Innovations have helped make the once-ineffective machines a weapon against urban runoff into the ocean."
It goes on to point out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency once considered the machines to have too high of an investment of time and effort compared to their performance.
But now, with the newer designed vacuum trucks, many cities in Southern California find them an efficient and relatively inexpensive way to reduce urban runoff to federal standards.
"A 1999 study by American Sweeper magazine, a trade publication, showed that vacuum-assisted dry sweepers could reduce the annual flow of sediment from residential streets 50 to 88 percent," the article reads.
For this reason, Orange County coastal cities such as Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Dana Point are soon to be joined by Seal Beach in increasing their use of street sweepers.
"Seal Beach is proposing to triple the sweeping fee (50 cents to $1.46 a month) for property owners so that streets can be cleaned weekly instead of twice a month," the article reads.
City officials in Dana Point told the authors they had doubled the amount of collected debris in commercial areas from 43 tons to 86 tons, and in residential areas from 172 tons to 344 tons.
"That's trash they assume would otherwise have washed into creeks or storm drains and out to sea," they wrote.
Experts interviewed by the authors admitted that street sweeping's effectiveness can vary greatly depending upon how often streets are swept, rainfall patterns and the skill of the operator, so it is not necessarily a cure-all.
Nevertheless, officials increasingly see street sweepers as one of the best tools available to them.
"As the federal government increases enforcement of the Clean Water Act, which prohibits anything but rainwater from flowing into storm drains," the authors note, "cities and counties are directing more money and other resources toward keeping urban runoff out of the ocean."
Maybe curb-to-curb street sweeping's time has come for Honolulu.
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