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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 15, 2004

Deadline near for choosing landfill site on O'ahu

 •  Map (opens in new window): How the proposed sites for O'ahu's next landfill compare

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nobody wants a garbage dump in their back yard, but it's almost certain that O'ahu will be stuck with one.

After nearly a year of tension and wrangling over where the dump should be, the City Council is nearing a Dec. 1 deadline for making the difficult choice.

One option is to keep the landfill where it's been since 1989, at Waimanalo Gulch on the Leeward Coast, and to expand it while working to cut down the amount of garbage disposed there.

Other possible locations include a quarry in Kailua, Makaiwa Gulch near Makakilo, and sites in Nanakuli and Ma'ili. Lobbyists and residents have floated many additional suggestions, from the intriguing to the absurd.

Some City Hall jokers suggest Diamond Head crater would be a perfect landfill site, while one small company has seriously called for sinking O'ahu's garbage in the ocean.

"We don't want to rule anything out, but of course, it has to be reasonable, not off-the-wall type ideas or excuses," said Councilman Rod Tam, chairman of the Public Works and Economic Development Committee.

First vote Nov. 17

The panel will take the first vote on a dump location during a public meeting on Nov. 17, Tam said. The choice will be forwarded to the full council on Dec. 1.

Tam said he's closely studying potential dump sites and won't let political pressure or lobbying influence the decision.

"It's a heavy burden, but I look upon it as a choice that must be made," he said. "We're going to try to minimize the concerns about visibility and odor, and make sure it's a safe environment."

The state Land Use Commission had originally required that a decision be made by June, but later extended the deadline to December at the council's request. Council chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said he has no doubt a decision will be made by then.

"I think everyone realizes a decision needs to be made by Dec. 1, and that we have to abide by that deadline," he said.

The council takes the responsibility very seriously and wants to make sure the public is confident that the choice won't be influenced by any hidden agendas, Dela Cruz said.

"You have to weigh all the factors, but by ensuring a public process, the council's decision will be transparent, and not the result of any political pressure," he said. "We're going to definitely look at community impact, and financial impact — how much it will cost the city's taxpayers. Of course we also have to look at health and safety."

Mayor Jeremy Harris said he would expand the Waimanalo Gulch dump if the decision were up to him.

"From a technical standpoint, it's absolutely the best place for the landfill to remain, no question about it," he said. "But simply because it's the best place doesn't mean it's politically accomplishable."

Cheapest option

After months of study, an advisory committee concluded last year that expanding Waimanalo Gulch would be far cheaper than starting a new dump elsewhere. Some Leeward landowners and residents have lobbied hard to close the dump, however, and it's unclear whether the state would allow it to remain open past 2008.

Harris sought state approval last year to keep the landfill open for 15 more years. But the city agreed to close the dump in 2008 in exchange for permission to expand it in the meantime. But Harris said the council is not bound by that decision.

"We couldn't receive the state approval unless we had a time certain to get out of there," he said. "That was my personal commitment. The council certainly isn't obligated to agree with me in any way."

He said the advisory committee's ranking of Waimanalo Gulch as the best site for the landfill provides ample justification for the council to stick with the site. The panel ranked the other four locations as less desirable choices that should still be considered.

Harris said the city needs to reduce its reliance on the landfill by quickly implementing an islandwide curbside recycling program and expanding the H-Power garbage-to-energy plant.

"We're always going to need a landfill, but there's no need for us to have daily landfill operations in perpetuity," he said. "We've got to get to a point where we're recycling enough of our waste stream so that it doesn't have to go to a landfill. That's the issue."

Harris has rejected proposals to ship some of O'ahu's garbage to Mainland dumps. Tam said he hopes that option will be considered in the future, and that the mayor who replaces Harris next year will also consider new waste disposal technologies that could further reduce the island's reliance on a landfill.

The city is scheduled to begin phasing in an islandwide recycling program next month. The program will be launched in Mililani and several North Shore communities, then expand across the island in five more steps over seven months, officials say.

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