Aquifer at issue in private landfill plan
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
A proposed new private landfill in Central O'ahu is already being panned because of its proximity to the aquifer that supplies much of the island's drinking water, but with the city desperate for a waste solution, the site at Pu'umaialau Gulch is getting substantial consideration.
The city Planning Committee voted 3-2 last week to advance Resolution 02-295, which would amend the Central O'ahu Development Plan Public Facilities Map.
The amendment, the first of a long and involved process necessary to build the facility, calls for placing a landfill symbol in Kunia.
The property is over the Pearl Harbor Aquifer.
While the state has a policy prohibiting landfills from locating over an aquifer, City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who introduced the Pu'umaialau measure, said she wanted to know more about the project and this was one way to get it into the public arena.
Gary Gill, deputy director of environmental health, was quick to discourage the idea, noting that in Central O'ahu, every chemical that was placed on the ground eventually found its way into the drinking water. Landfills leach rain and juices from trash into the soil, he said.
"There are systems to collect them but it's better not to take that risk," he said. "Landfills are there forever once you build them. The leachate protection systems are designed to last decades but not centuries."
In testimony at the Planning Committee hearing, URS Corp., consultant for the refuse company Central O'ahu Recycling and Disposal Facility Inc., said the company can develop safe landfills near aquifers.
Brennon Morioka, URS engineer, proposed a double-liner system that would cover the entire landfill.
"This is what they use throughout the United States when they build landfills over sole-source aquifers, which is what Pearl Harbor is," Morioka said, adding that he is not aware of any failures to this system.
But Gill said there are no fail-safe systems.
City managing director Ben Lee said he's not aware of the details of the project but that in a recent study of possible landfill locations on O'ahu, sites in Central O'ahu were eliminated from consideration.
"Those sites did not pass the first screening because they were over the aquifer or the ... (underground injection control line), so we immediately rejected those," Lee said.
The city's only dump the Waimanalo Gulch landfill in Leeward O'ahu has already exceeded its original capacity and was recently granted permission for what amounted to an emergency extension because there is nowhere else to put the island's garbage.
The only other landfill is operated by PVT Land Co. in Nanakuli and it is for construction material.
City officials have been accused of dragging their feet on the landfill issue, and opposition to the continued use of Waimanalo Gulch is high among residents in its vicinity.
City officials have said they want to reduce dependence on landfills, close Waimanalo Gulch in five years, purchase 23 acres of land next to the H-Power plant to initiate alternative waste-treatment projects and expand H-Power, which nets the city $20 million a year.
But almost everyone agrees that the city will still need a landfill for materials that can't be recycled, reduced to ashes or burned.
Kobayashi said the proposed Pu'umaialau Gulch landfill would relieve some of the burden on the city facility because private refuse collectors now take their trash to Waimanalo Gulch.
Councilman Gary Okino said he supported the resolution because sooner or later the city will have to open another landfill and this private company's request is one option worth exploring.
Councilman Steve Holmes said it is a bad idea to place landfills over an aquifer and called the request for a landfill symbol premature because the company proposing to build the facility doesn't have a well-defined plan.
The Pu'umaialau Gulch resolution will go before the entire City Council Nov. 13. Kobayashi said she expects that the proposal will be sent to the city Department of Planning and Permitting for review.
URS is expected to present its project to three neighborhood boards beginning next month, in Mililani, Wahiawa and Kunia.
In the last Legislature, lawmakers rejected a bill to issue a $25 million special-purpose revenue bond to Central Oahu Recycling to build the facility.
State Rep. Mark Moses said the request came up late in the session and no one seemed to know anything about it. At his request, the Legislature turned down the request, said Moses, R-42nd District (Kunia, Makakilo, Ewa, Waipahu, Kapolei).
"I'm not going to unleash something in my district without knowing about it," he said, adding that the project might be positive but he didn't have the details and thought it was better to delay it.
Lee said the city probably wouldn't object to the project if it were at an appropriate site.
"I prefer looking at other sites that are not over the ... (aquifer)," he said. "I agree with the Department of Health."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com or 234-5266.