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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oahu needs sustainable waste solutions

The city wants the green light to make its only solid-waste landfill loom as an even larger presence at Waimanalo Gulch, where it is already an unwelcome fixture on the Leeward Coast.

In fact, the Leeward Coast is certain to be stuck with it for at least a few more years. The existing permit to dump there will run out in November, leaving a private landfill in Nanakuli even more of a disruption to residents the only short-term alternative. Many of the residents themselves agree that allowing the gulch site to remain a while longer is the lesser of two evils.

That doesn't mean they're willing to tolerate it for 15 years, or that they should accept it almost doubling in size. Allowing that to happen is precisely the opposite direction the city should be choosing in its long-term plans for waste management.

Yet that is what the city is proposing in separate petitions before the Planning Commission and the state Land Use Commission. The effect of both actions will be that the city will have use of much more land, an area with the capacity to hold trash for 15 more years.

Leeward residents are justifiably incensed about this, particularly considering that the city promised to close this landfill years ago. Strict time limits are needed to force development of more sustainable solutions.

There is a reasonable middle ground here that should be sought. Todd Apo, the City Council chairman and representative of the area, believes an extension of two years should be enough because the planned H-Power plant expansion, which will convert even more solid waste to energy, is set to go online in 2011.

The Planning Commission may want to consider allowing a little more margin than that, in case of unanticipated delays with the project. The other waste-management alternative a contract to ship O'ahu trash to the Pacific Northwest is expected to provide another means of coping, but hasn't been finalized, either.

Ultimately, the hope is that through technological improvements in waste reduction, recycling and other means, O'ahu will need only an emergency landfill to cope with disruptions in shipping or H-Power operations. There will also be a need for much smaller "monofills" that would take only ash left from H-Power incineration.

Other sites on the island should be identified to bear this burden. And the focus should turn to finding better ways to handle O'ahu's waste, rather than turning to 20th-century fallback answers such as landfills that keep growing larger and uglier.