Stagnant trash riles officials
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
City Council members are growing increasingly skeptical that Hawaiian Waste Systems can fulfill a contract to ship 100,000 tons of municipal trash to the Mainland by the end of September.
Some council members even want to take back at least part of the $10 million set aside for the contract next year and use it to help balance the city's $1.82 billion operating budget.
"I can't help but feel HWS intentionally deceived this council," Councilman Ikaika Anderson said at yesterday's Council Public Infrastructure Committee meeting. "I feel we were intentionally misled."
"I feel that way," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the committee.
Hawaiian Waste originally said it would begin shipping O'ahu trash to a Washington state landfill last October, but has postponed the start of shipments at least 10 times. The city now says the earliest the company could begin shipments is the end of April.
More than 20,000 tons of compacted trash are baled and sit on three different sites at Campbell Industrial Park. The city, which had been sending up to 200 tons per week, has stopped sending trash to Hawaiian Waste at the company's behest.
Council Budget Chairman Nestor Garcia, who sat in on yesterday's meeting, said he believes there may be no need for next year's operating budget to include the full $10 million alloted for the contract.
Garcia said he'll make that suggestion at the next scheduled Budget Committee meeting on Monday.
"They'll be lucky to get half," Garcia said.
"Maybe we should take it all," Anderson said.
City Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger noted that the city does not pay Hawaiian Waste $99.89 a ton until the trash actually is placed in a Mainland landfill, so it hasn't spent any money on the project except for the labor costs tied to a city worker who regularly inspects the company's Campbell Industrial Park facility.
Because of that, Garcia said he believes there may be enough money left over from this year's $10 million to cover part of the shipping cost next year.
The Budget Committee is in the midst of trying to find tens of millions of dollars in savings in next year's budget to stave off program cuts and property tax increases.
Councilman Gary Okino was the only council member at the meeting urging the city to go slow.
"We have some time to see what happens. But at some point, we're going to have to decide," Okino said.
There was no one from the Washington-based company to rebut criticism. New company president Mike Chutz was scheduled to appear and discuss a plan to move forward, but a family emergency forced him to go to the East Coast last week.
Since being granted a contract to ship up to 100,000 tons of trash annually to a private landfill in the Northwest, Hawaiian Waste Systems has failed to deliver.
The biggest obstacle for the company has been its inability to secure a needed approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin shipping.
Steinberger said USDA officials estimated the earliest a compliance agreement can be reached is the end of this month.
He said that when the city handed the contract to Hawaiian Waste, assurances were given that the company had the proper paperwork and permits to ship immediately.
Several council members yesterday said it's time for the city to consider nullifying the contract for nonperformance.
Steinberger declined to answer the question, referring the issue of a potential contract breach to Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Takeuchi.
Takeuchi said he would consider answering questions about contracts only in a closed, executive session.
However, he said, "Obviously as time goes by the numbers become more alarming, and at some point they will not have enough time to catch up."
If Hawaiian Waste were to abandon its project, the state Health Department would have the main responsibility for cleanup, Steinberger told reporters after the meeting.
Because the Hawaiian Waste contract was performance-based, it was not required to be bonded or insured.