Waimanalo landfill filling up fast
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
The city's only municipal landfill has seen a two-thirds increase in the amount of waste arriving daily, fed in part by the booming economy and increased number of visitors, city and state officials said.
For months, Waimanalo Gulch landfill has been taking in hundreds of additional tons of waste daily, said state solid waste chief Steven Chang. He said he does not see a crisis looming, but noted that the city and Waste Management Inc., private operator of the landfill, are taking steps to accommodate the extra waste.
The city had planned for an average of 1,000 tons of waste going into the landfill each day, with more than twice that going to the city's H-Power garbage-to-energy plant, Chang said. But he said annual maintenance at H-Power, busy periods at that plant and an increase in waste coming in has pushed the average expected at the landfill up to 1,700 tons a day.
City Environmental Services Director Eric Takamura said the previous estimate was probably low and that the 1,700-ton-a-day average seems more realistic. And he said he expects that number to stay high with a good economy and booming visitor industry.
"If tourism continues to be this strong, it won't go down," Takamura said.
However, he said there is room at the landfill for the extra waste.
City Councilman Todd Apo said news of the rapidly filling landfill is just one more piece of evidence that the city needs a plan for dealing with waste on O'ahu. Now.
"We should have been talking about that a year ago," Apo said. "The city has got to have a solid waste management plan."
Yesterday, the City Council public works committee voted 3-2 to approve a bill that would close the landfill May 1, 2008, as originally promised. Apo said that coincides with an earlier state Land Use Commission order. The full council will take up the bill at its meeting tomorrow.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann hopes to come out with a strategic plan on solid waste in the next month, Takamura said. He said the city is considering various alternative disposal technologies to minimize the use of landfills.
News that the landfill is filling much more rapidly follows several recent landfill revelations:
Apo said he was surprised to hear the state Health Department and Waste Management confirm that the ash pit would reach capacity within a month unless the permit is modified.
"If that's only coming to light now, that's very poor," he said. "It's clearly not something that's coming all of a sudden."
Apo said he would like to learn more about how the city monitors the landfill's private operator so that problems can be resolved more quickly.
Takamura emphasized that the city is working with Waste Management and the state to resolve operating issues that have triggered complaints.
Landfill neighbors Vicky Seiler and her husband, Michael, purchased their home in Kai Lani about two years ago.
"We did so with the understanding that the Waimanalo Gulch dump would close in 2008 and in the meantime would meet all the safety and sanitation requirements."
She said she is disturbed by the "significant problems" that she sees, including trash flying by their home, bad smells and other questions raised by the state Health Department.
"There remains a significant problem with dump operations and the fine was completely appropriate and long overdue," she said.
Chang thinks the increase in trash comes as a result of more buying.
"Because the economy is booming, people are consuming things more," Chang said. He noted that the December tally of beverage containers sold shot up from the 70 million monthly average to 100 million.
While there typically is a seasonal increase around the holidays, he noted that this year's increase surpassed what is usually seen.
"We're seeing more illegal dumping, too," Chang said.
Takamura agreed with Chang's assessment that there's been more waste going to the Wai'anae Coast landfill.
"It's the robust economy and the increase in tourists," Takamura said.
Hawai'i welcomed a record 7.46 million tourists last year, with even more expected this year, according to state estimates.
The neighboring communities' complaints about litter, pollution and other problems at the landfill have increased political pressure on the city to find an alternative to dumping there by 2008 when its permit expires.
But Chang said the city and Waste Management are making progress. By adding a rock wall berm on the makai end of the landfill, he said the operators added stability to the landfill.
He said the state is still reviewing the lengthy documentation in the permit modification request but thinks it can be worked out in a way that meets environmental concerns.
"I think they have enough capacity," Chang said. "From a technical standpoint, it can be done."
Chang said the city plans to deal with excess liquids gathering in the landfill by running a pipe into the sump so they can pump out any rising liquid.
He said the state will hold a hearing before deciding on the proposed permit changes.
And he noted that there will be new requirements for the city and Waste Management.
"We're developing new conditions so that we get up-to-date information," he said.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com.