Waste: Future of landfills, wisdom of deferred work under debate
|||How much is too much?|
State Sen. Russell Kokubun believes the renewed public interest in planning recently grows largely out of the sense that public agencies are rushing to cope with one crisis after another.
Waste disposal is a prime example, with long-deferred decisions erupting into the public's consciousness with events like the failure of the Beach Walk sewer system force main in Honolulu on March 24.
That failure forced the city to dump 48 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Ala Wai Canal, closing beaches at Waikiki and making national news.
The sewer system failure was blamed on deferred work, with the emergency fix and permanent repairs costing $50 million.
Angry debates also have erupted over the future of the Waimanalo Gulch landfill on O'ahu, and a proposal to haul trash across the Big Island to the Pu'uanahulu landfill when the Hilo landfill finally fills up and closes in the years ahead.
Barbara Bell, director of the Big Island Department of Environmental Management, said the amount of trash produced by Big Island residents is rising faster than the population is growing, meaning more trash is produced per person than in years past.
Bell believes that is a function of a strong economy, with solid waste increasing by 16 percent, 12 percent and 7 percent over the past three years. The county is moving to more aggressively pursue recycling, but those efforts have been criticized as expensive.
While counties struggle to cope with today's waste, the computer model developed for the state's Sustainable Tourism Project projects that assuming moderate growth in tourism, the amount of solid waste generated statewide will grow from 3.2 billion pounds a year to 4.4 billion pounds a year by 2030, a 37 percent increase.
The report predicts "significant costs associated with maintenance and expansion of solid-waste management services."
Even the most carefully planned growth will demand more money to cope with waste.
Office of Planning Director Laura H. Thielen said that if Hawai'i does focus more growth on urban infill to create more compact communities — a policy her office supports — that calls into question whether existing sewer lines and other infrastructure can accommodate the extra burden.
"What types of urban infrastructure are we going to need to upgrade in order to accomplish that?" she asked.
Jim Dator, director of the Hawai'i Research Center for Futures Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, believes problems such as aging sewer mains are not addressed until there is a crisis because people don't want to pay for the fixes.
"One of the reasons we haven't done any of these things is because we won't pay taxes to do the things that need to be done. That's the problem," he said. "We've got to understand there is plenty of wealth here, but we're not using our wealth to provide the infrastructure that is necessary for individual life and individual prosperity."