A list of documents the state won’t share about January’s spill at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill indicates that it’s considering penalties against the city of Honolulu and the firm that operates the facility.

The six-page list, provided to Civil Beat Tuesday in response to an open records request, shows the Health Department refused to release the inspection reports it produced immediately before and after the spill.

The reports could not be disclosed because they were exempt from the state’s open records law on the grounds that they pertain to the “prosecution or defense of any judicial or quasi-judicial action,” according to the department.

Dozens of internal communications were also withheld because releasing them would frustrate a legitimate government function, the Health Department said after conferring with the Attorney General’s Office.

Civil Beat requested the list after the department made public a slew of documents that revealed much about the government response to January’s spill. After a day of heavy rains, stormwater carrying landfill garbage and medical waste was discharged into the ocean by Waste Management to prevent catastrophic failure of the landfill.

The withheld documents “are either not discoverable because they involve attorney-client communications or were prepared in anticipation of possible litigation, or their disclosure would reveal deliberative processes and would frustrate legitimate government functions, or both,” Environmental Management Division Chief Stuart Yamada said.

His statement came in an email providing the original documents to various media outlets and the City and County of Honolulu, which filed its own open records request.

The inspection reports were dated Jan. 4, Jan. 6, Jan. 13 (the day the spill began) and Jan. 20, the withheld documents list shows. The Clean Water Branch officials who prepared those reports declined to talk about their contents.

After a December 2010 inspection by the same inspectors, the Health Department said the landfill operator violated the state’s water pollution law by purposefully discharging leachate — water that has been mixed with garbage.

The Health Department has yet to send a formal notice of violation for either the December discharge or the January one, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. In past instances, months have passed between the date of inspection and the announcement of penalties.

Review the list of withheld documents:

About the Author