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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2003

Politics cited in landfill fiasco

 •  Chart: How the proposed sites for O'ahu's next landfill compare

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Opinions vary about what went wrong after the disintegration of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Landfill Siting, when four members resigned in protest last week.

For most of five months, the members had worked together amicably, sorting through issues by consensus. It all fell apart, they say, when the process seemed to turn political.

What is certain is that those in opposing camps had conflicting views about the committee's intended mission. At the heart of the controversy was an 11th-hour decision made by a majority of the committee members to remove O'ahu's current landfill site at Waimanalo Gulch from consideration.

"The mission was to select a new landfill site which would replace Waimanalo Gulch," said Todd Apo, who led the effort to scratch O'ahu's current landfill.

Apo points out that Frank Doyle, director of the Department of Environmental Services, had instructed the committee at the beginning of the process not to consider Waimanalo Gulch as a potential site.

Member Cynthia Thielen, one of the four who walked out, said "Frank Doyle can't bind future city officials," and pointed to the letter appointing committee members, which asked the panel to "recommend one or more sites to the City Council."

"Our mission was clear," Thielen said. "We were to submit 'one or more sites.' There was absolutely no restriction from considering Waimanalo Gulch as one of those sites. And there was no requirement that we only submit one site."

Thielen called the final committee report submitted to the mayor and city on Monday "tainted" because it excluded the site that ranked highest under the committee's own, 31-point, double-blind criteria scheme: Waimanalo Gulch.

"Using our own criteria, the result was that Waimanalo Gulch was the most favored site, by a significant margin," she said.

Waimanalo Gulch scored 113 points, compared with 99 points for Makaiwa Gulch. The other three sites on the final list — a quarry in Ma'ili, a location referred to as Nanakuli B, and the Ameron Kapa'a Quarry in Kailua — all scored 97.

After four members refused to vote on the Waimanalo Gulch issue Monday — the last day the report could be submitted to the mayor — the remaining nine voted to remove the current landfill from future consideration.

At that point, Thielen and committee members Eric Guinther and Kathy Bryant-Hunter, all of whom live on the Windward side, walked out in protest, as did Bruce Anderson.

Thielen complained that the committee had spent nearly five months making decisions by consensus, only to have the process degenerate into a not-in-my-backyard vote that resulted in Waimanalo Gulch's removal from the list.

Guinther was so disgusted by the outcome that he sent an e-mail to committee facilitator Dee Dee Letts on Tuesday asking that his name be eliminated from the final report.

"I would certainly not bother, if I had it to do over again," said Guinther, an environmental consultant who attended every meeting.

"I lost work, because it was a volunteer thing," he said. "I think the final straw for me was a letter from Jeff Stone of Ko Olina Resort threatening a lawsuit if I didn't remove Waimanalo Gulch from the list. Nobody wants a landfill in their area, so for Jeff Stone to somehow think he's more important than the state of Hawai'i and the people of O'ahu, that was the crowning blow."

Guinther said he also was miffed that some committee members who showed up for the final vote had attended only one or two previous sessions.

The committee, which started out with 16 members, had narrowed to a core of about a dozen who attended regularly.

The City Council is not bound by the advisory committee's report, and can still consider Waimanalo Gulch when it selects the next landfill by the June 2004 deadline.

"In my view, we were there to make a decision," maintained Apo, vice president of corporate operations for the Ko Olina Community Association, who forced the final vote. "And if we could have made it with a consensus, great. But there was no consensus. Voting was ultimately the only way we were going to get there."

Anderson, former state health director, said he had worked to keep Waimanalo Gulch under consideration.

His view is that it's irresponsible to walk away from a landfill that has an expected capacity of at least 20 more years, and many more than that if the city's recycling and waste management policies are improved.

"First of all, the city owns Waimanalo Gulch, so they don't have to buy it," he said. "It's much cheaper to operate because they've got cover material there. And all the infrastructure is in place. It would cost millions for the city to put the landfill anywhere else."

The city could make Waimanalo Gulch a win-win situation by giving the host community millions in financial benefits, he said. The unsightliness of it could be corrected with inexpensive landscaping, and offensive odors eliminated if and when the city completes a third boiler at the H-Power facility.

"The only time it smells is when H-Power is down and they have to take garbage to the landfill," Anderson said.

He believes the city boxed itself into a corner when it caved in to pressure from Leeward interests unhappy about the landfill, and promised to shut down the landfill near Kahe Point by 2008.

But promise it did, and committee member Cynthia Rezentes, who lives on the Wai'anae Coast, believes that pledge constitutes a contract between the city and the community that must be fulfilled.

"It took almost four years before the city would commit to the community that 2008 would be the end of it," Rezentes said. "Many of us, by the way, had struggled through that whole process. From our standpoint, Waimanalo Gulch should have been a closed issue, because that battle had already been fought."

Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.