A military site in Kahuku has replaced a Kailua quarry as Honolulu’s top choice for a new landfill. But that doesn’t mean Kailua should start celebrating.

The committee in charge of ranking potential landfill sites took a year and a half to complete its evaluation — the second time the process has been undertaken during the past decade. But a city consultant told reporters Wednesday that he made a data error and that last week’s announcement that Ameron Quarry in Kailua had outscored 11 other potential sites for Oahu’s new landfill was wrong.

A site in Kahuku jumped from No. 7 to No. 1 after the data was corrected. Another Kahuku site ranks second. Two Pupukea sites grabbed the third and fourth slots. Ameron Quarry dropped down to No. 5.

But the results don’t signal the end of discussions. If anything, it’s bound to heat up.

For one, the city will have to weigh the impacts trash-toting trucks would have on the two-lane Kamehameha Highway as they cart garbage to the North Shore from the rest of the island. Kahuku is also about as far as you can get from Campbell Industrial Park and H-Power, which burns the majority of the trash. Trucks will be traveling longer distances, potentially adding to the city’s costs.

SMS Research was responsible for last week’s data mistake. Jim Dannemiller, the company’s president, looked pained as he explained the error to a small crowd of reporters during a Wednesday press conference.

Dannemiller said he noticed the error Sunday night when he was reviewing the data.

His reaction?

“It wasn’t pleasant,” he said. “That’s my career. That’s what I do for a living. And I usually don’t make mistakes like that.”

The announcement prompted a rebuke from Mayor Peter Carlisle.

“I’m very disappointed that the consultant miscalculated data regarding such an important issue, especially after members of the Advisory Committee on Landfill Site Selection volunteered their time for more than one year to carefully establish evaluation criteria and recommend a site to supplement or replace the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill,” he said in a statement.

Kahuku’s rise in the rankings is sure to come as some relief to Kailua residents hoping to avoid playing host to Oahu’s garbage. But the list is only advisory. The mayor and City Council will make the final decision.

Council Vice Chair Ikaika Anderson, who represents the Kailua area, struggled to stifle a smile when talking about the mind-boggling turn of events with reporters in a hallway at Kapolei Hale, where the council met Wednesday.

“I don’t think there’s anything to celebrate for my district at this point. These are merely recommendations to the mayor. We’ll have to see what he does with them ultimately,” Anderson said. “We’re absolutely by no means done with this yet. All we have now is a different order in the listing. … It could change again next week. I don’t know.”

Council Chair Ernie Martin, whose expansive district includes both the Kahuku and Pupukea sites, told reporters during a break in the council meeting that he was caught by surprise by the change.

“Of course the communities that weren’t impacted thought there was some relief on their parts, so of course I’m extremely disappointed,” Martin said. “I would have thought something as sensitive as this, that due diligence would have been done before we would have allowed these sites to be released.”

Dannemiller said he inadvertently inserted numbers into the raw data table. That skewed the results for several criteria, including the distance of the landfill from homes, schools, hospitals and parks and the distance of potential landfill sites to H-Power. 

The city’s existing dump, the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill is slated to close at the end of July. However, the city is pushing to get rid of the deadline altogether, noting that Oahu wouldn’t have anywhere to put its trash. A new landfill site is expected to take about seven years to develop.


The chart on top shows the incorrect rankings announced last week. The bottom chart contains the revised rankings.

Still No Guarantees For Kailua

There’s no guarantee that the new landfill will be built in Kahuku.

The two Kahuku sites are owned by the federal government and are in an area that the U.S. Army uses for training, according to Brian Takeda, project coordinator for R.M. Towill, another consultant on the landfill issue.

Takeda said the landfill committee did not call the U.S. Army garrison to see if the land was in active use.

“We didn’t, purposefully, go and identify particular land ownership interests only because we didn’t want to be criticized later on (for) manipulating the results,” he said.

That type of analysis would be done by the city, Takeda said.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who represents Kailua, said she was still concerned that Ameron Quarry could still be in the running if the Kahuku and Pupukea sites fall through.

“Ameron shouldn’t even be on the list,” she said. “I’m grateful it’s down to the fifth level but the point is that were the other sites to be knocked out, one because it’s military property and the other for other reasons, than that would put Ameron right back up at the top. We don’t want a landfill right next to a wetland of international significance and where it’s home to endangered species.”

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