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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, November 20, 2004

Surprise dump site chosen

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

In a very unusual move, a key City Council panel yesterday rejected five proposed sites for a new city garbage dump, and voted instead to put the dump on vacant land in Campbell Industrial Park.

People waited their turn to testify at yesterday's City Council meeting to select a new landfill site for O'ahu. The map is of the Kailua area, where a quarry was among the dump site options. 400MAP

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

The choice came as a relief to some residents and business owners who feared their neighborhoods would be ruined by a new dump, and who packed City Hall to voice their opposition for hours before the vote.

But other officials said the chosen site, beside the H-Power garbage-to-energy plant, is unsuitable for a dump and is not likely to win final approval.

"It appears that the decision was a political one, and not one based on any scientific analysis of what can be done on that site," said city Managing Director Ben Lee. "The logistics just don't make sense."

The 23-acre site is too small, includes endangered plants and can't be deeply excavated because it's near the ocean, he said.

The city-owned property was not among the dozens of potential dump sites that officials have studied over the past year. It was not included in a report that evaluated five sites considered the most viable, and it had not been publicly discussed until yesterday.

The choice requires a final vote by the full council on Dec. 1, and would require approval by the state Land Use Commission later.

Yesterday's surprise decision came after Councilman Rod Tam, chairman of the Public Works and Economic Development committee, first proposed to expand the city's current dump at Waimanalo Gulch on the Leeward Coast.

He abruptly changed direction after conferring privately outside the meeting chambers with Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who later said she had recalled the industrial park site and suggested it as an option.

Kobayashi said she hoped the selection would buy the city enough time to invest in alternative forms of waste-disposal technology that would end the need for a dump.

"Being small, it will force us to get new technology in place," she said.

Wai'anae resident Cynthia Rezentes said she's thankful the panel did not choose to put the dump near homes or schools.

"I'm still a little bit uncomfortable, but I'm glad it's not on the Leeward Coast, in the sense of being in the middle of neighborhoods, or Waimanalo Gulch," she said. "But they've got their work cut out for them. It's going to be a challenge over the next three-plus years to get to the point of not requiring any landfills."

Ko Olina Resort developer Jeff Stone applauded the decision.

"I think this site is a great compromise, and I think it's going to push us all toward the technology we need to have," he said.

The resort is across Farrington Highway from Waimanalo Gulch, and Stone has lobbied hard against expanding the dump.

"I think the City Council showed here that they want Ko Olina to continue to go forward, that they want the Leeward Coast to recover," he said.

Newly elected Councilman Todd Apo, vice president of corporate operations for the Ko Olina Community Association, said he has many questions about the chosen site but believes it deserves consideration.

"We've talked about thinking outside of the box and trying to find a solution, and this may be it; I don't know," said Apo, who will assume his council position in January.

Voting in favor of the site were Tam, Kobayashi, and councilmen Charles Djou and Mike Gabbard. Romy Cachola, the committee's vice-chair, was absent. The decision came after an initial vote ended in a tie, with Djou and Gabbard in opposition.

Djou said he has serious concerns about the site, but wanted to make sure the council would not fail to make a decision.

"I'm not convinced this site is going to work," he said. "But it is better to make this decision than no decision at all, and everything that was coming up seemed to get deadlocked. I'm still very skeptical and have a lot of concerns."

One potential problem is that federal aviation guidelines discourage dumps within two miles of airports, he said. That could jeopardize plans to base an aircraft carrier here and use a landing strip at Kalaeloa, he said.

Djou had urged that the panel consider a private company's proposal to set up a dump in Nanakuli and charge the city for each ton of refuse disposed of. Gabbard called for the industrial park site to be chosen but designated as a staging area for shipping O'ahu's garbage to the Mainland.

Tam telephoned council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz to make a special appearance to break the tie, but Djou then agreed to switch his vote, and Gabbard followed suit. Dela Cruz later said he would have voted the same way.

Tam, who often calls for high standards of open government, later said he realized he may be criticized for triggering a vote on a site that has not been publicly scrutinized, after discussing it privately with another council member.

"There's nothing to hide, because the information is out there," he said. "The public will have a chance to consider it before Dec. 1."

The vote came after more than five hours of testimony by residents and elected officials. Several students from Nanakuli High & Intermediate School carried posters imploring the panel not to pick any of the four sites on the Leeward Coast that were under consideration.

State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat who represents the Leeward Coast, reminded the council panel that the city had promised that the Waimanalo Gulch dump would be closed in 2008.

No other area on O'ahu has more illegal landfills than the Leeward Coast, which also is being considered for a new electricity generation plant and which does more than its fair share to help the state cope with the problems of the homeless, Hanabusa said.

She said the city in 1999 extended its contract by 15 years with a company that runs the H-Power plant with no notion where ash from the plant would be buried beyond 2008, when the Waimanalo Gulch dump was supposed to shut down.

The contract extension may have been illegal because it bound the city to continue to pay the H-Power operator without addressing where the ash would be dumped beyond 2008, Hanabusa said.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican who represents portions of Kailua and Lanikai, asked the panel to eliminate the single site not in Leeward O'ahu.

Thielen said turning a Kailua quarry into a landfill could result in the loss of 26,000 construction jobs and would have profound adverse effects on students at nearby Kalaheo High School.

Staff Writer David Waite contributed to this report. Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

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