SA (4/28/21): ‘City Again Takes First Steps to Relocate Landfill’

By Ashley Mizuo, Star-Advertiser, 28 April 2021

For the third time, the city has started evaluating sites to replace the island’s only municipal landfill, Waimanalo Gulch, on the West side of Oahu.

The state Land Use Commission ruled in 2019 that Waimanalo Gulch must close by March 2, 2028, due to environmental justice issues, and the city must select a new location by Dec. 31, 2022.

The city has identified 12 potential areas that meet the mandated requirements for a new landfill. Two are on the West side, which will prove to be controversial as Waimanalo Gulch is also there. Three areas are on the north side of the island, and one is in Central Oahu.

Potential sites were evaluated in 2012 and 2017, But Wesley Yokoyama, director of the city’s Department of Environmental Services, told the City Council Tuesday that new laws make the previous locations obsolete and not worthy of consideration.

“We’d like to note that those reports are null and void at this time,” he said. “They’re just there for history.”

The state in September enacted Act 73, which prohibits any waste or disposal facility from being located in state conservation districts and requires a half-mile buffer between the edge of any disposal activity and the closest residence, school or hospital property line.

The law disqualified several of the sites that were considered in the 2012 and 2017 study. Instead, Environmental Services staff have identified 12 areas on the island that would be eligible after taking all mandated restrictions into account.

Yokoyama warned that the locations are preliminary and present only a rough idea of where the next landfill could be.

“We’ve identified areas — not parcels, but areas that are potential for the landfill,” he said.

“Now the next step is looking in these areas for parcels and applying the criteria selection, looking at who owns it, actually doing a more granular search to make sure that we’re not within that half-mile zone with residences, and then developing specific parcels and areas that would be possible for development of a landfill,” Yokoyama said.

Two of the eligible areas are on the West side of the island, and Councilwoman Andria Tupola, who represents the area, immediately said they should be eliminated.

STAR-ADVERTISER: “Every single site on this island is in my district as far as a landfill is concerned. You might want to put another map code that suggests that those ones are not in.” -Andria Tupola, Councilwoman

“Every single site on this island is in my district as far as a landfill is concerned,” she said. “You might want to put another map code that suggests that those ones are not in. Because we’re trying to look for some fairness and justice here. It shouldn’t be considered again in those two areas.”

Waimanalo Gulch landfill has been in operation since 1989. The West side also hosts the private construction and demolition landfill PVT.

Yokoyama emphasized that environmental justice considerations have yet to be taken into consideration, and the areas that were identified Tuesday are all that remain on Oahu after eliminating restricted areas.

“We still need to search in these areas and apply the discretionary type of criteria to the sites that we look for in here,” he said. “That’s where we’ll include stuff like the environmental justice, costs, impacts to the surrounding community, that kind of thing. So these are just the areas that are left after all the requirements are taken into account.”

Councilman Calvin Say questioned whether the city would be able to select a new location for the landfill by the mandated deadline in 2022.

“Is it realistic for us to say that you and I and the Council have only 18 months?” he asked.

“You haven’t even gone out to the community, to the boards, etc., to explain the county’s position or why there’s a need for another site,” Say said. “It has to be vetted with the total community because you’re accepting their waste, and that’s the responsibility of all of us.”

According to Yokoyama’s presentation, the industry standard for locating, permitting and developing a new landfill takes a minimum of 10 years — while the city faces a deadline of seven years.

As a contingency plan, the city is applying for a district boundary amendment from the state Land Use Commission.

“I want to stress that this is not our primary goal,” Yokoyama said. “This is a backup goal in case we can’t re-site a landfill for whatever reason.”

A district boundary amendment requires an environmental impact statement, which could take about four years to complete. There is no guarantee the amendment would then be granted.

The city’s contract with HPOWER, a waste-to-energy incinerator that absorbs most of the island’s waste, requires Oahu to have a landfill to accept its ash residue and the remaining waste that the plant cannot process.

Ultimately, it will be up to Mayor Rick Blangiardi to decide where the next landfill should go, but the City Council will be able to weigh in when the budget is drafted.

Yokoyama estimated that it would cost about $210 million to open the next landfill. He is considering pushing for a refuse user fee to charge people for the waste they dispose of.

The fee would generate income while discouraging people from generating waste, which Yokoyama believes is integral to reducing Oahu’s trash problems.

“I really think we need to educate and start thinking about and changing the mindset of people about source reduction,” he said. “If you don’t have to renovate your house, don’t do it. You don’t have to throw away or buy things and just dump it because a new thing comes along,” he said.

“That’s where all of our waste comes from,” Yoko­yama said. “It’s consumerism, American consumerism. … Source control, I think, is the key.”

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