Illegal dumping at Waianae landfill being investigated
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer
The state Departments of Health and Hawaiian Home Lands have begun investigating a large illegal landfill in a remote region of Wai'anae Valley in which hundreds of tons of construction demolition waste has apparently been systematically hauled, dumped and buried for years.
Steven Chang, DOH Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch chief, said yesterday that investigators from his office are also gathering information that will be turned over to the state Attorney General's office for possible prosecution.
"There are a lot of allegations of criminal action," Chang said. "I'm putting together things to send to them."
Kaulana Park, deputy director of DHHL, who was among those who inspected the illegal landfill on Tuesday, said DHHL is launching an internal investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, the owner of a Wai'anae trucking company linked to the site said his company has for years hauled waste materials to and from the landfill with the knowledge and authorization of DHHL officials.
Jay Foster, owner of Fosters Trucking LLC, said he decided to come forward because he suspects DHHL is trying to distance itself from an agreement the agency had with him and leave him holding the bag for unlawful dumping at the landfill.
He said since the illegal landfill story broke last week, his phone calls to DHHL have gone unanswered.
"When things like this come out, then everybody is looking at me like I'm the bad guy," he said. "Especially, when I'm not running to my defense. Why do I have to run to my defense when I didn't do anything wrong?"
Foster says he established an agreement with a DHHL land agent in early 2005 to collect rubbish on Hawaiian Home Lands property in Wai'anae Valley and move it to the area of the illegal dump site. Foster, who has documents that appear to support his claim, says he did the work for free in his off hours as a way of helping rid the community of unsightly rubbish.
A document dated Jan. 21, 2009, and signed by a DHHL representative states that Foster has permission to take "illegally dumped material" from an address on Haleahi Road — the location of the illegal dump — to the PVT Landfill, and indicates to the landfill operators that the bill for any charges should be submitted to the "State of Hawaii DHHL."
Stephen Joseph, vice president of PVT, said yesterday that the DHHL clearance for the Wai'anae Valley landfill location has been canceled pending the results of the state investigation.
Foster said he was told by the DHHL land agent that what he was doing wasn't against the law because he was simply moving trash from one location to another on DHHL property until enough waste had been gathered to take it to the PVT construction waste landfill to be properly disposed of.
"From the back to the front — no, there is nothing illegal," Foster said. "Because it's going from Hawaiian Homes to Hawaiian Homes."
Tons of waste debris had been dumped in the valley long before he and the DHHL ever reached their agreement, Foster said. And he said a locked gate with a "No Trespassing" sign he erected at the entrance to the dump sitehad been broken open on numerous occasions by people illegally hauling trash to the canyon.
The DHHL would not comment on Foster's claims.
DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka said the department's internal investigation will focus on how procedures may or may not have been followed.
"What we're going to be trying to find out is did we follow a certain process?" he said. "We're going to be saying what happened, why did it happen and were there things that were not done correctly? And then we're going to have to make some corrections."
SITE USED SECRETLY
Although unlawful trash heaps have long plagued the Wai'anae Coast, this site is exceptional in that it seems to have functioned secretly for years as an active landfill for the disposal of commercial construction materials.
"It's obviously an illegal dump," said Todd Nichols, environmental health specialist with DOH Solid Waste Section, who also visited the site on Tuesday. "There were new stockpiles of material. And then there was stuff that had been buried."
The materials — which are both piled high in mounds of debris, and buried in the ground and covered with dirt — include asphalt, concrete blocks, old painted wood, hollow tile bricks, rebar, cast iron, roofing materials and green matter.
The landfill is on the mountain side of Highway 782 about a quarter-mile town-bound of where the highway intersects Wai'anae Valley Road.
Nichols said some testing for contaminants will probably be ordered by DOH. On Wednesday, large rocks and boulders were placed around the access areas so nothing could be removed.
"We still have to sort out what all is going to be required for the cleanup," Nichols said. "There are a lot of rumors flying around."
Trucking firms are charged fees of $32 to $90 a ton to dispose demolition debris and contaminated waste at the PVT Land Co. in Nanakuli, the only landfill on O'ahu that can legally accept construction materials.
Such fees can be substantial, considering they often involve many tons of waste.
The illegal landfill came to light after a community group that included Lucy Gay, director of Continuing Education & Training at Leeward Community College in Wai'anae; Hawaiian activist Alice Greenwood; and environmental watchdog Carroll Cox inspected and photographed the dump site earlier this month along with a group of adult LCC students.
According to Cox, president of EnviroWatch, the Wai'anae Valley site is "the most substantial and multi-faceted illegal landfill I've seen in the state."
Among the chunks of concrete and twisted metal, Cox and the others found documents they believe might lead to the origins of the unlawful operation. But others had complained about the dumping activities months earlier.
Former Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board member David Lawrence Brown sent a written notice via e-mail to numerous agencies and leaders on Sept. 18, citing "potentially illegal dumping activities on ... DHHL lands" in the vicinity of the dump site off Highway 782.
Four days later, DOH solid waste inspectors visited the site. On Oct. 7, the department's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch sent a warning letter by certified mail to DHHL. In addition to scrap metal, tires, asphalt, concrete slabs and miscellaneous rubbish, the letter said the department had received an additional complaint that contaminated soil had been dumped in the area.
The letter gave DHHL 60 days to remove all solid waste from the area, take it to a DOH-permitted disposal facility, and submit disposal receipts to DOH — or face a penalty of up to "$10,000 for each separate offense, for each day of the offense, in accordance with Hawaii Revised Statutes 342H-9."
Park said DHHL acted on that warning and cleaned up the site, which is near a cul-de-sac at the end of Haleahi Road, about a quarter-mile from the site the Wai'anae community group inspected on July 9.
Before that incident, illegal dumping had occurred on a two-acre parcel of DHHL land at 87-1670 Haleahi Road, according to Tait "Bo" Bright, who holds the lease to the property. Bright said the dumping had been going on since at least August 2007, around the time he was trying to establish an agribusiness on the property.
After months of complaining to DHHL officials, Bright said the materials were eventually removed from his land. But he said they were merely bulldozed to and buried at a site next to land leased by his sister. Since he lives with his sister, Bright said he saw heavy equipment bury the debris.
"I was watching them open up the ground and start dumping in truck loads," he said.
That site is also within walking distance of the illegal dump site the Wai'anae community group inspected on July 9, Bright said.