‘Landfill Must Stay Open, Court Rules’

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(Note: The following story by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s Ken Kobayashi was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune on 5 May 2012. – js)

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Friday struck down a restriction barring the city from accepting garbage at the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill after July 31.

The state Land Use Commission’s restriction was overturned in a unanimous 5-0 ruling.

The court noted that the city has maintained there is a continuing need to dispose municipal solid waste at the Leeward Oahu site and that it would take more than seven years to find and develop a new landfill.

The ruling was seen as a blow to Leeward residents who want the Waimanalo Gulch landfill closed, while Mayor Peter Carlisle said he was pleased with the ruling. City lawyers had argued against the July 31 provision.

“No community wants a landfill in its backyard, but it’s important to understand that our island will continue to need one for the foreseeable future to handle materials that can’t be recycled, can’t be turned into energy by the HPOWER plant or that result from a natural disaster,” the mayor said.

Richard N. Wurdeman, lawyer for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a former state senator representing the district that includes Ko Olina and Waianae; state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, a Waianae resident; and the Ko Olina Community Association called the ruling a “temporary setback.”

He said his clients, who were allowed to participate in the case, will still push for closing the site. He said the closure is long overdue.

The July 31 provision was included in the state commission’s approval of a special-use permit for the expansion of the landfill to 200 from 107 acres.

Under that restriction the landfill can accept only ash and residue from the HPOWER plant after July 31, but not any municipal garbage.

The ruling comes at a time when the city is evaluating 11 possible new landfill sites from the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Landfill Site Selection.

The city will continue the process to find a new or supplemental site, and plans to conduct an environmental analysis of the potential sites before making a recommendation to the City Council, according to city spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy.

In a 37-page opinion written by Associate Justice Jim Duffy, the court said the Honolulu Planning Commission, which approved the expansion, established that there would be a need to dispose the garbage at the site beyond July 31.

The justices noted that Waimanalo Gulch is the only public facility for municipal garbage on Oahu.

The court also said Frank Doyle, former Refuse Division chief and former director of the city Department of Environmental Services, testified in 2009 that the city would begin looking for a site in 2010 but that it would take more than seven years to develop a new landfill.

The court pointed out that the Planning Commission concluded the city could use the expanded site until it reaches its capacity as determined by the state Department of Health.

The city commission’s record of the case was sent to the state commission, which reviewed the record, held its own hearings and approved the permit but added the July 31 restriction.

The court ruled the state commission’s approval of the permit for the expansion “cannot stand” because the court was striking down the July 31 restriction, which was part of the state commissioners’ approval.

The court sent the case back to the state commission for further hearings as determined by the commissioners.

McCoy said the landfill will continue normal operations while city lawyers review the court’s ruling.

“We have placed a strong emphasis on diverting waste from the landfill through recycling and expanding the HPOWER plant by adding a third boiler,” Carlisle said.

“We are on track to divert roughly 80 percent of the island’s municipal solid waste from the landfill.”

Wurdeman said the city has promised for years that it would close the landfill. “The people of the Leeward coast have incurred the burden of the landfill for way too long,” he said. “Enough is enough, and the landfill should be shut down.”

He said his clients’ position when the case goes back to the state commission is that the landfill should be closed, but if it is permitted to continue operations, the commission could still adopt restrictions if they are properly crafted.

Shimabukuro (D, Ko Olina-Makua) said she thinks the court’s decision “puts everything on the table.”

She said since the city said it takes about seven years to develop a new site, she’d liked to see a new landfill by Nov. 1, 2017.

The state senator said she’d also like reports twice a year on the landfill and a chance for people to express their opinions.

She said the city or landfill operator should notify residents about storm runoff problems.

Shimabukuro, citing the storm last year that caused major flooding at the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and medical syringes to appear along the shoreline, said there is more evidence now compared with 2000 to support residents’ arguments.

The state commission told the city to find a site in 2000, she said.

Deputy Attorney General Sarah Hirakami, who represents the state commission, said she couldn’t comment until she talks to the commissioners.


Star Advertiser staff writer Gary Kubota contributed to this report.

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