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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2004

Lawsuit weighed in dispute over new O'ahu landfill

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Angered by years of what they call "environmental injustice," members of the Wai'anae Coast's Hawaiian community vowed that they will physically block trash trucks from entering their streets to prevent the city from opening a new landfill there.

Landfill meetings

• Today: 7-9 p.m., Kapolei Hale

• Tomorrow: 7-9 p.m., Kailua District Park

The area is home to O'ahu's only municipal landfill, which residents say is not only foul smelling but contributes to poor health in the community and stifles economic growth.

And with barely 60 days remaining until the city is supposed to select a site for the island's next landfill — and three of four potential locations on the Wai'anae Coast — they want officials to know they won't tolerate having O'ahu's trash dumped near their homes any longer.

"You can bet we're looking at any kind and all ways of stopping this from happening," said Kamaki Kanahele, president of the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association, part of a coalition of eight such groups representing thousands of homes. "If the landfill is (placed) in Nanakuli, the presidents of the homestead associations will be filing an EPA lawsuit against the county."

Nor does the coalition want a landfill in Kailua or in any other community.

Instead, it says the city can end O'ahu's reliance on landfills by embracing plasma arc technology, an option the city has rejected so far, saying that the cost and benefits didn't meet expectations.

"We'll continue to look at alternative ways of reducing the amount of material that goes to the landfill," said Frank Doyle, director of the Department of Environmental Services. "We believe the best way right now is to have our H-Power plant work harder for us."

But H-Power is obsolete, the coalition says, and a landfill that cannot be reached without driving through a low-income community that suffers higher rates of health problems and already hosts the island's only municipal landfill is strong grounds for a lawsuit claiming environmental injustice, Kanahele said.

"We have seen the trash on the highway," he said. "We have seen the mismanagement ... from delivery point to disposal point. And that has been a travesty, and in Nanakuli we are not going to put up with that."

The City Council must select a new landfill by June 1, a deadline set by the state Land Use Commission in exchange for extending the use of the present Waimanalo Gulch landfill last year to 2008 amid community outcry to close the facility. Waimanalo Gulch was almost at capacity when the expansion was approved.

Recently, a committee selected four possible landfill sites from a list of more than 40 possibilities. Three of the sites are on the Wai'anae Coast and the fourth is in Kailua.

Residents in Kailua also have organized to convince the city that the landfill should not be in their neighborhood. However, only about 50 people attended an informational meeting this month.

On the other hand, Wai'anae residents meet monthly and have been looking for alternatives to a landfill for four years.

They have been talking with a company called Geoplasma LLC about using plasma torch technology to basically disintegrate trash, leaving a byproduct of granular material and energy.

The sand-like aggregate can be used for such things as paving material, and the energy would run the plant, said Hilburn Hillestad, company president.

Geoplasma would build the plant at no cost to the city and charge a tipping fee, Hillestad said, adding that his company can be competitive with the cost of H-Power. He will make a presentation to the City Council on Wednesday.

Councilman Rod Tam has scheduled meetings in both areas this week to discuss the issue.

"We are reacting to the public's desire for more open government," said Tam, chairman of the Public Works and Economic Development Committee. "I've got an open mind, and my colleagues have an open mind."

However, Tam said the council must choose a new landfill site and it will, after hearing from the people and various experts about technologies that can deal with municipal waste, including plasma arc and recycling.

The council has passed a resolution asking for an extension of the June 1 deadline, and Doyle said he has submitted a request to the state Land Use Commission.

In Kailua, reaction to the possibility of a landfill in Kapa'a Valley at Ameron Hawaii's quarry has been relatively quiet, said Kathy Bryant-Hunter, who served on the landfill site selection committee and is chairwoman of the Kailua Neighborhood Board.

"The word is getting out, but it's still very apathetic," Bryant-Hunter said.

Kapa'a Valley has been home to several landfills, the most recent closing in 1997.

During the operation of the landfill, trash accumulated on the side of the road leading to the dump and people would often leave piles of garbage on the ground.

Kailua residents complained that when the wind blew in from Kona, they could smell the rotting material. Even today, Kapa'a Quarry Road has a reputation as a dumping ground.

Bryant-Hunter said she doubts O'ahu could ever get along without a landfill but that more must be done to deal with trash because none of the sites selected are good ones. Cost-effective alternatives should be used, including technology and recycling, she said.

Bryant-Hunter also suggested that the communities work together and present one voice to the city.

"It would be a compelling argument to the city if all the different areas were on the same page with the same information," she said.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.