The City and County of Honolulu has until 2028 to open a new landfill and shutter operations at the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill on Oahu’s Leeward Coast.

The state Land Use Commission Thursday granted the city’s permit application to continue using the landfill, the only public one on Oahu, as long as it starts winding down operations. It’s part of a decades-long struggle over its future.  

“We’re pleased to finally have a date for closure,” Cal Chipchase, attorney for the Ko Olina Community Association and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, said shortly after the decision. “We’re pleased all the commissioners recognized the harm to the Leeward Coast.”

Waimanalo Gulch Waste Management Landfill located mauka of Disney Aulani and Koolina Ihilani. Waianae.
Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill would close in 2028, after the state Land Use Commission granted a city of Honolulu permit application Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The city had applied for an extension of the permit until the landfill is full, which could be 2038 or later. It also asked to expand the landfill by 95 acres.

Chipchase and other intervenors in the case argued that would amount to extending the permit indefinitely.

Neighborhood groups and intervenors in the case have argued for a closure deadline because the city has missed several in the past decade.

Kamilla Chan, the city’s lawyer in the case, argued that it would be impossible to set a target date for closure because the city continues to find ways to divert and recycle waste, extending the life of the landfill.

It’s not clear if the city will be able to meet the 2028 deadline. On Wednesday, Chipchase recommended a closure date of 2027 based on an estimate from the city that it would take seven years to get a new landfill ready.

The city’s Department of Environmental Services identified several properties in a 2017 study. A site in Waianae Valley topped the list, though Chan said the city still hasn’t officially chosen a new site.

“First, number one step is just to acquire it,” Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said of the property located off Kaiwi Way in Waianae Valley.

She added that there are many steps after acquisition, such as drafting an environmental impact statement and other technical reports.

Thursday’s decision came after two hours of deliberation in which the commission rejected several other options.

Some commissioners wanted the city to reconsider the matter after gathering more data, but that motion was also struck down.

“The land use commission should be really clear and not just keep passing the buck,” commissioner Nancy Cabral said.

Commissioner Dawn Chang said stale data from 2012 does not support a closure date of 2028.

But Chan argued that denying the permit could endanger the public.

A 2017 study estimated that the landfill has capacity until 2038. The city was ordered in the early 2000’s to close it by 2012.

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