Update on Fight to Close the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill

On 20 May 2012, the Star-Advertiser published an article by Vicki Viotti, “Talking Trash: A Supreme Court Ruling Offers Some Time Relief in Siting a New Landfill, but the Issue Festers,” which focused on the aftermath of the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision to override the July 31 deadline for dumping garbage in the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill. See the article for the complete story.

Excerpts from the article:

“We’re still moving forward with looking at either a replacement or supplemental site,” said Tim Steinberger, who heads the city agency grappling with the landfill issue. “Although the pressure to do so by July 31 is certainly not there, which allows you to do a better, proper job.”

The most recent search has already drawn loud outcries. Last month, the mayor’s advisory committee first placed a Kailua site at the top of the list; days later, citing a scoring error, two Kahuku sites emerged at the top. “Not in my backyard” protests erupted in several neighborhoods.

“There are always critics (of the selection process), depending on what planner you talk to, what part of the United States — they all have their own way of doing it,” Steinberger said. “The interesting thing is they almost always come back to the same issue, that it comes down to ‘What does the engineering science say about it?'” That means the community preferences will have influence in the final selection, he said, but so will possible impacts on groundwater, geological conditions and other concerns.

“The other thing you have to look at is you have to be fiscally responsible,” Steinberger added, “so you can’t just be spending $100 million to build a landfill that may only be taking 20-30 tons of waste a year.”

Beyond the current debate, the broader controversy dates back the better part of a decade, with Leeward Oahu declaring it had endured long enough as the trash destination of the county. A political campaign for ending the gulch operation was joined by leaders such as U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, then a state senator for the area, and a promise was exacted from Mufi Hannemann, dating to his time as mayoral candidate, to relocate the landfill.

The site search makes sense whether or not it ultimately remains a permit condition, Steinberger said, because even the expanded gulch location has a limited life. Estimates have been floated that capacity there would be reached about 12 years from now.

For their part, the community opponents to the gulch landfill don’t seem inclined to give up the fight to close it. State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro represents the 21st District, from Ko Olina to Kaena Point, and was an intervenor in both the LUC hearings and the court case. Shimabukuro introduced a bill to place a moratorium on any new landfills on the Leeward Coast, but it went nowhere.

Among many other problems, [Shimabukuro] said, the aftermath of storms in early 2011 — which flooded the landfill and caused overflows of medical waste into storm drains, ending up on West Oahu beaches — did not fill the coast communities with confidence.

City officials have projected that it would take seven years to develop a new landfill, Shimabukuro said. Since the search process began in earnest in 2010, she wants to see a revised deadline set for Nov. 1, 2017, to open one at another location.

[Shimabukuro] shrugged off complaints about the distance garbage trucks would need to travel to reach Kahuku, the top site identified recently by the advisory committee.

“Why does all the garbage come to us?” [Shimabukuro] asked rhetorically. “That doesn’t make sense to me, either.”

Hanalei Aipoalani, who chairs the Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board, said the board had hoped the Waimanalo Gulch closure deadline would have been met. The resistance of the community is pegged not only to the municipal dump problems, but that’s more like a last straw, he said.

“That type of feeling is the result of our community being the host for a variety of things: the landfill, the power plant,” he added. “We have PVT (the private dump licensed to take construction and demolition waste), illegal dumping sites, wastewater treatment.

“It’s trying to preserve what we have left in the community.”

Steinberger hopes more progress can be made in diverting waste from the landfill, reducing the volume that would need to be dumped anywhere. A third boiler unit at the HPOWER garbage-to-energy plant is already having test firings and is expected to come online as early as next month, processing an additional 300,000 tons of municipal solid waste a year.

Shimabukuro pointed to plans for a new municipal composting facility that, as soon as next year, will take in a mix of sewage sludge, green waste and compostable food scraps, further winnowing the volume of trash for the landfill.

There’s room to improve the amount of mixed recyclables that can be kept out of the waste stream, Steinberger said. The city estimates that of those participating in curbside collection, about 77 percent of the green waste is segregated into the green bins, he said. The proportion of recyclables separated out in the blue bins is about 20 percentage points less, and there are a lot of people not participating at all.

The city also has plans to promote more recycling at condominiums now served by private trash hauling companies, he added, which should help notch up the volume of recyclables diverted.

More technological strategies for reducing waste that HPOWER can’t burn have not yet yielded cost-effective solutions, he added. Specifically, there are tests in Japan and elsewhere of what’s called plasma arc and plasma gasification systems, but they can take more power to operate than they produce from processing the waste, he said.

Finally, the plug was pulled on one additional proposal for reducing what goes to the dump: sending it to another landfill. Two years ago, federal authorities withdrew approval of a permit for shipping garbage to Washington state, seen as a potential backstop to problems with landfilling garbage here.

Robert Harris, executive director of Sierra Club Hawaii, said the city deserves praise for taking the difficult step of banning nonbiodegradable plastic bags, even though it represents a small percentage of the waste stream and won’t take effect for three years.

But he added that it’s a step toward the kind of policy leadership that’s needed. There are more aggressive policies advancing recycling used in other cities, such as fines for mixing recyclables with regular trash. These should be considered, too, along with more educational outreach to get better compliance from businesses.

“The cheapest and best thing to do is to attempt to reduce the amount of waste we produce,” Harris said. “I don’t think the county has put as much effort into that.”

One Response

  1. […] Update on Fight to Close the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill « Maile's … […]


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