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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tam: Dump in Koko Crater

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

With a critical deadline just one week away, the politically volatile debate over where to dump the city's garbage grew more explosive yesterday when the city official leading the search made a surprise suggestion to create a landfill in Koko Crater.

Councilman Rod Tam said someone — he would not say who — had asked him Monday to propose a landfill in the East O'ahu landmark, and that he was open to additional suggestions.

The crater is a city-owned nature preserve and includes a botanical garden and equestrian stables.

Tam said he was "very serious" about using the site for a garbage dump, and denied suggestions that the proposal was meant to divert attention from other sites or pit communities against each other. Tam represents the area from Makiki to Kalihi.

But others called the move "utterly ridiculous," and said it showed that the search for a landfill site has spun out of control.

It was the second time in four days that Tam has proposed a location that was not among five evaluated for months and discussed in public hearings.

"My gosh, they seem to be coming up with some real knee-jerk type of ideas without any kind of analysis at all," said city Managing Director Ben Lee. "I hope the City Council will just settle down, talk to our staff, go through whatever information they have, and pick a suitable and appropriate site."

Councilman Charles Djou, who represents the area that includes Koko Crater, said he suspected Tam's suggestion was meant to pressure him into supporting another site.

"This is getting ridiculous," Djou said. "The whole point of getting elected officials is that we're supposed to make difficult decisions, and quite clearly we're not doing it. The time has come for us to stop monkeying around with this."

Tam said he would hold a special public meeting Monday at 2 p.m. in the City Council meeting room, so that anyone can express concerns about Koko Crater or any other site, or suggest alternatives.

"I ask everyone to give us their comments, pros and cons," he said. "Only then will we come up with our selection for a future landfill site."

The city has been authorized to operate the current dump at Waimanalo Gulch until 2008, and the council is under heavy pressure to decide where O'ahu's garbage should go after that. A decision is due by next Wednesday.

Koko Crater was among 39 potential dump sites that an advisory panel evaluated last year and rejected as being too small, near too many homes, or otherwise unsuitable. Five other sites were forwarded to the council for further evaluation.

Tam said it had been suggested to him that Koko Crater had been eliminated because it is in a high-income community. He would not say who told him that, or whether he believed it was true.

Among the five sites that were not eliminated is the current city dump at Waimanalo Gulch, which officials say can serve as a landfill for 20 years or more. But some council members say it would be unfair to expand the dump there after Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration last year promised to close it in 2008.

Tam is chairman of the council's Public Works and Economic Development Committee, which voted Friday to establish a dump on a city-owned parcel in Campbell Industrial Park.

The choice drew cautious praise from residents and business owners who objected to putting a dump in their neighborhoods, but some city officials and environmentalists said the location is unsuitable for a dump. The full council can back the proposal in a final vote next Wednesday or choose another site.

The council has long been under orders to choose a dump site by then or risk the immediate cancellation of a state permit to run the Waimanalo Gulch landfill, on the Leeward Coast near Kahe Point.

"Right now, so much negative publicity has come out regarding the Campbell Industrial Park site, that by throwing out Koko Crater, an even more ridiculous site, I guess it takes the pressure off Campbell Industrial Park and makes it look like a better selection," Djou said. He said he's concerned the proposal is a red herring meant to pit communities against each other.

Tam said he proposed the Campbell location Friday after Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi suggested it and it became clear to him that the committee would remain deadlocked over any other proposal. Kobayashi said yesterday that she had not proposed to use Koko Crater for a dump.

"I don't know if I would be in favor of that," she said. "It certainly is far from H-Power (the garbage-to-energy incinerator in Campbell Industrial Park). What I want is to keep things near H-Power."

Kobayashi said she was open to hearing about Tam's suggestion, however. "If (Tam) wants to bring it up for serious consideration, I'll certainly listen," she said. "We have to make a decision, otherwise Waimanalo Gulch is going to close."

Council chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said he had not known of the Koko Crater proposal until Tam announced it yesterday.

Kobayashi said the city's main goal in handling garbage should be to eliminate the need for a landfill by using new technology. But it's not clear how soon new techniques could be in place, or how reliable they would be.

The Harris administration last year sought proposals from companies to build a plasma arc plant that would blast garbage with superheated air and burn it into a glassy substance that could be recycled as a construction material.

But the offers were rejected out of concern that the process was too costly, that the companies didn't have enough experience handling the amount of trash Honolulu generates, or that it would take too long to build a facility.

The city purchased the Campbell Industrial Park site from the Campbell Estate in 2002 for $5.3 million, and intended to create a recycling technology park there, Lee said.

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

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