The federal government has ordered immediate clean-up at Waimanalo Gulch in the wake of a garbage spill that closed the landfill and caused sewage sludge and trash to back up across the island.

The order gives clean-up and repair deadlines at the site. Landfill operators could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines for noncompliance. The order also requires daily progress reports.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the order Tuesday. Up to this point, the EPA has helped coordinate the cleanup without issuing a formal order. Waste Management of Hawaii, the company that runs the city landfill, voluntarily entered into the order. Its operator, Joe Whelan, will serve as the project coordinator in the agreement. Whelan has repeatedly refused to respond to requests for comment about the landfill spill.

“The order was created to bring some kind of structure with a specific schedule and specific milestones that need to be met to get the landfill up and running again,” said Dean Higuchi, the EPA’s regional director. “It’s a blueprint so everyone can be on the same page: us, the city, the state and Waste Management.”

The key requirements outlined in the order are as follows:

  • Within two days, Waste Management must begin filing daily progress reports (on weekdays only) to the EPA and State Department of Health.

  • Within one week, Waste Management must outline a plan for ongoing daily beach clean-up; a plan to maintain the structural integrity of the cell from which garbage spilled and restore an over-capacity sediment basin to its intended use (plus find a place to dump all the sediment in that basin). The landfill operator is also tasked with developing a health and safety plan, to protect the public during the repair period.

  • Within 10 days, Waste Management must provide analysis of the structural integrity of the landfill cell from which garbage spilled. That analysis must be conducted by a “qualified civil or geotechnical engineer.” The company must also provide a work plan to ensure the structural integrity of a temporary fix to that cell.

  • Within two weeks, Waste Management must outline a plan to fix the damaged liner that keeps trash from seeping into the ground.

  • With three weeks, Waste Management must complete construction of a functional stormwater diversion channel. (City officials had said the completion of that channel before the heavy rains could have prevented the landfill spill.) The landfill operator must also stop liquid discharges from that cell — except those permitted — from flowing into the ocean by that time.

  • Within 60 days of completing all work required in the order1, Waste Management must submit a final report summarizing the company’s compliance with the order as a whole.

Waste Management is prohibited from using the damaged landfill cell. EPA had to intervene in the initial stages of the clean-up because the landfill operator was putting medical waste collected from beaches back into the damaged landfill.

The order includes a detailed list of fines the city and landfill will face for noncompliance. Daily fines could be up to $3,000 with other one-time penalties of up to $50,000. Even if all tasks are completed on time, the federal government will send the landfill a monthly bill for money the EPA spends in its efforts at the landfill.

The State Department of Health is investigating whether Waste Management or the city is in some way responsible for the spill. If DOH finds wrongdoing, it could issue fines. Whelan has not returned Civil Beat’s repeated requests for comment in the wake of the spill.

“I wouldn’t downplay that this is a very serious issue,” Higuchi said. “This landfill needs to get operating sooner rather than later.”

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