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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Big Island debates its looming trash crisis

By Karin Stanton
Associated Press

HILO, Hawai'i — The Big Island's garbage woes are getting deeper and more expensive by the truckload as the county considers a plan to haul more than 200 tons of trash 80 miles each day from Hilo to a dump near the Kohala Coast resorts.

The South Hilo Sanitary Landfill is to close in March, leaving only one dump in West Hawai'i, less than two miles south of the resorts, for the entire island.

County officials are looking at running up to 80 trucks a day to haul East Hawai'i trash to that landfill while exploring a new, high-tech method of garbage disposal and finding up to $60 million to pay for it.

Although the route has not been announced, it appears the trucks would head north from Hilo along the Hawai'i Belt Road through the already congested town of Waimea, turn down Waikoloa Road and south along Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway to Pu'uanahulu landfill in North Kona.

"It's an issue that people are talking about. It's really just a mess," said Tammie Mulligan, owner of the Fashion Consignment Studio in Waimea, along the likely route. "It cannot be a long-term thing."

County Councilman Angel Pilago, whose district includes Pu'uanahulu, said he understands the urgency of the situation but is not satisfied with the way the problem has piled up like the nearly 200-foot tall Hilo landfill.

"Closing the landfill is not the catastrophe; the catastrophe is that my community is becoming the dump site. This cannot be a long-term solution," he said last week at a special meeting of the council's Environmental Management Committee. "We're willing to be good neighbors, but I keep getting a feeling that this is being shoved down our throats."

A dump in Kailua, Kona, already was closed by the time county officials ruled out building a fourth facility in their 2002 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan. The state Department of Health approved the county's plan, which also emphasized recycling and recommended a new waste reduction facility in East Hawai'i.

Among the options were waste-to-energy combustion, thermal gasification or anaerobic digestion technology.

But the county still has not decided which high-tech route to take, where it might be built or how to pay for it. County officials and experts agree it will be years before construction can begin.

In the meantime, the county wants to spend $14.5 million to build a sort/reload complex to weed out green waste, metals and recyclables — up to 45 percent of the total — before hauling the remainder to Pu'uanahulu.

According to county figures, approximately 160,000 tons of solid waste were dumped into the county system in 2000.

Private companies hauled about 50 percent to county landfills; much of the remaining half was hauled by individual residents to the island's 21 transfer stations.

"We are committed to minimizing what goes into the landfill," Mayor Harry Kim said at last week's meeting. "I feel this is a good plan, and all the components fit."

But Kim also said the plan to haul trash to Pu'uanahulu is unacceptable for the long term and urged support for the sort/reload station while a new method of disposal is sought.

Puna Councilman Gary Safarik sees a major flaw in that plan.

"Those two ideas are diametrically opposed," he said, as it will be difficult to attract a private for-profit contractor while simultaneously seeking to reduce the raw materials by nearly one-half.

Safarik, one of only two council members still in office who signed off on the 2002 plan, said he has long considered solid waste a priority, and in 2003 traveled to Japan, Taiwan and Australia to visit several waste reduction facilities.

"I would say it's a crisis and no matter what we do, it's going to be expensive," he said. "The longer we wait, the more it's going to look like we don't care. It's on the backs of the taxpayer, and we have to be truthful about it."

Along the highway between Hilo and Waimea, several business owners and employees are angered by the county's slow response.

"It's ridiculous. It's just a waste of money," said Haley Souza, cashier at Pinky's Convenience Store north of Hilo, who said she's not troubled by the increased traffic — "I don't like that smell."

Souza's father, two brothers and a nephew are employed by private rubbish haulers Business Services Hawai'i and she worries the extra work — sorting, reloading, driving — will cut into family time.

Another residential and commercial hauler, Steve Araujo, said long-hauling may cost him his livelihood.

"I need to know if I'm going out of business in eight months," he said. "I would need 28 hours a day just to do my job."