The latest twist in the saga of where to put Oahu’s trash is that the city of Honolulu has asked the state to extend a July 2012 deadline to close the island’s major landfill.
The application to keep the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill open was filed by the Department of Environmental Services on June 28, according to Markus Owens, the city’s environmental spokesperson. The request has to be reviewed by the City’s Department of Planning and Permitting before it goes to the state Land Use Commission for a final ruling.
The application, which comes as a committee appointed to pick a new site is doing its work, could spark another round of contentious debate. Residents near the leeward landfill complain about its environmental impacts and Ko Olina hotels and resorts rail against its potential impact on their businesses.
“Ko Olina and the community association is extremely disappointed, as you can imagine,” said Sweetie Nelson, a spokeswoman for Ko Olina Beach Resort. “Ko Olina has lived up to its commitment of developing an economic engine for the state and we fully expect and are relying on the city to fulfill its promises to close down that landfill.”
Negative attitudes toward the landfill were heightened after heavy rains caused it to overflow in January. Trash and medical waste flowed into the ocean and washed up on nearby shores.
But Owens said that there was no other choice but to file the request. The committee, appointed by Mayor Peter Carlisle, meets Tuesday for the first time since the application was filed. It began a search for a new site in January, but it could take years before anything is constructed. Currently, there is no other site to handle the waste.
When the Land Use Commission granted an extension of the landfill’s permit in 2009, it imposed the July 2012 deadline while simultaneously acknowledging that it would take at least seven years to develop a new landfill.
Asked why the commission would issue a seemingly contradictory order, Owens said, “That’s a good question. I can’t speak for the commission and I don’t think they have made that public either.”
Normand Lezy, who currently heads the Land Use Commission, declined to comment.
However, Reuben Wong, a former commissioner who voted in favor of the 2009 ruling, said that the ruling made sense.
“It sounds inconsistent, but it isn’t,” said Wong. “Our responsibility was only in deciding what to do with Waimanalo Gulch. Our job isn’t to find a solution to how to get rid of waste.” He also said that the ruling was a long time ago and he couldn’t remember all the details.
While Owens said that the Department of Environmental Services was complying with orders to find a new or supplementary site, for now it seems prudent to keep the landfill open.
“There is still 92.5 acres that still can be used, the infrastructure is still in place and there would be no new cost to taxpayers,” said Owens.
While there are no cost estimates for a new landfill site, Joe Whelan, the manager for Waste Management of Hawaii, the private company that manages the landfill, said it would be “extremely expensive.”
Meanwhile, the H-Power plant, which converts trash to energy, is undergoing an expansion that could accommodate 80 percent of the municipal solid waste on Oahu, offsetting pressure for a new site. But a future site is still needed for the remaining 20 percent.
Rodney Smith, manager of Covanta, the private company that manages the waste-to-energy facility, said that they could begin accepting more waste by next spring.
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