U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has lost another battle in her decade-long fight to shut down the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill on Oahu’s Leeward coast, where the city dumps the bulk of its garbage.
Upholding a 2010 Circuit Court ruling, Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals rejected her appeal on Friday, which sought to invalidate an environmental impact statement conducted as part of the process to expand the facility.
In 2008, while president of the state Senate, Hanabusa, who is also an attorney, sued the city in her personal capacity, arguing that the EIS was “insufficient and unacceptable.”
Waste Management Hawaii, the operator of the city landfill which sits mauka of Farrington Highway, was in the process of expanding the facility by 92-acres, to about 200-acres.
Hanabusa contended that the EIS failed to explore alternatives to expansion and didn’t take into account the landfill’s economic impacts on Ko Olina Resort and its history of environmental violations, among other issues.
The appeals court said it found no basis for the complaint, upholding a 2010 circuit court ruling.
Hanabusa “does not provide significant details or argument with respect to these claims, or cite legal authority that persuades us,” the court wrote in its 19-page opinion.
The court called the EIS “thorough and comprehensive, consisting of three volumes and over 1,900 pages.”
The ruling also rejected Hanabusa’s claims that the EIS was “self-serving” and failed to look at alternatives to expanding the Waimanalo landfill, which was approaching capacity at the time.
The EIS looked at shipping waste off-island, other landfill locations and the option of doing nothing, according to the court ruling. The document also assessed alternative waste disposal technologies, including increased recycling, waste to energy and aerobic and anaerobic digestion.
A spokesman for Hanabusa did not return a call for comment and it’s not clear if Hanabusa, who is in the midst of a campaign for U.S. Senate against Sen. Brian Schatz, will appeal the decision.
Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong said in an email that the decision “reaffirms the City’s position that its FEIS was and is sufficient to encompass the final expansion at the WGSL.”
She noted that the appeals court, in upholding the lower court ruling, found that the final environmental impact statement was done in good faith and contains sufficient information for city officials to make a “reasoned decision” that balances harm to the environment against benefits of the landfill.
Hanabusa unsuccessfully filed a separate lawsuit in 2003 on behalf of the Ko Olina Community Association opposing plans to extend the life of the landfill.
Leeward coast residents, particularly residents of Ko Olina Resort, which sits below the landfill, have fought to have the garbage dump relocated for years.
This fight was reinvigorated last month when a federal grand jury indicted the landfill’s managers for allegedly lying to federal and state health officials about having an adequate storm water system in place when pounding rains overtopped the landfill in 2011. The flood of water sent syringes, vials of blood, catheters and other garbage into the ocean and onto the beaches at Ko Olina resort.
Joseph Whelan, general manager and vice president for Waste Management Hawaii, and Justin Lottig, the company’s environmental protection manager, are facing prison time and millions of dollars in fines.
Waste Management Hawaii is also facing major fines.
Hanabusa, who used to own a home at Ko Olina, has fought against the landfill for years, arguing that it’s sited too close to residential and commercial communities.
Following the 2011 spill, she released a statement criticizing the city’s continued operation of the facility.
“For nearly a decade I have fought for the closure of the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill through agencies and the judicial system because Oahu needs another alternative to dumping trash into an endlessly expanding hole in the ground situated so close to residential and commercial communities,” she wrote.
A city advisory committee suggested that a new landfill be cited in Kahuku in 2012. But Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Honolulu City Council, which will ultimately decide whether and where to relocate the landfill, have yet to take action on the recommendation. It would take about seven years to develop a new site.
Caldwell spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke says there are no plans to alter Waste Management’s contract to run the landfill at this time.
You can read the full court ruling here.