Stored Honolulu trash draws complaints of odor, insects
• Photo gallery: Tons of trash piling up
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
KAPOLEI — The delay caused by Hawaiian Waste Systems' inability to ship the city's garbage to the Mainland has drawn the attention of the company's Campbell Industrial Park neighbors — and now the state Department of Health.
Employees from neighboring businesses claim the growing amount of trash accumulating at Hawaiian Waste System's 'Oihana Street baling facility and a makeshift shipping bin storage site across the street are causing an increasing gnat population and a growing odor issue.
Steven Chang, chief of the Health Department's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch, said inspectors this week "saw some potential violations" by Hawaiian Waste Systems, the company that has a contract with the city to ship trash to the Mainland.
"We will be notifying them in writing" about the possible violations, which involve "the number of bales and how they're storing the bales and the fact that we did see a significant amount of insects," Chang said.
A warning letter will be issued, but no fines will be levied if the problems are fixed, he said.
The city agreed to pay Hawaiian Waste Systems $99 per ton to ship 100,000 tons of municipal trash annually to the Mainland. The company has been accepting city trash since Sept. 28.
But it has yet to obtain a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ship and unload the waste at a port in the Northwest from which it can be transported up the Columbia River to a landfill in Roosevelt, Wash.
Hawaiian Waste Systems, which has missed many target dates for shipping, now says it expects to begin in February. The city won't begin paying the company until the trash reaches the landfill on the Mainland.
Compressed trash baled in light-green plastic shrink wrap has been stored at the company's plant, much of it in shipping containers. Recently, the company also began storing shipping containers of trash across 'Oihana Street at a lot owned by EK Fernandez Shows.
The Department of Environmental Services last week estimated it had unloaded about 15,000 tons of trash with the company.
The USDA requires the company to rebale trash after 75 days. City officials, however, said they were told the company is not required to do that if the trash is in a shipping container.
GNATS IN 'YOUR FACE'
Several neighboring businesses visited by The Advertiser said gnats and other insects are a growing problem, as is odor, especially if winds are blowing the trash in their direction.
The employees of Vitro America, a distributor of architectural glass and mirrors, say they have it especially bad because they are directly across the street from the baling facility and next door to Hawaiian Waste Systems' storage site.
Raymond Posiulai, a warehouse foreman, said that at first workers had to watch how they sipped their beverages outdoors for fear of swallowing gnats.
"It's bad now," he said, noting that the odor and gnats have now invaded the company lunchroom.
"They're all over your face, they go on your shirt," Posiulai said of the insects. As for the odor, "you can smell it in the air conditioning."
Pacific Custom Boats lies just to the south of Hawaiian Waste Systems. Owner Clayton Takamoto said that in recent months, he's stopped accepting boat painting jobs.
"If I paint (a boat) and all the gnats get stuck to it, I don't want to have to keep painting it," said Takamoto, who estimates painting jobs accounted for 20 percent of his business. "I just lose money that way."
Employees at Honsador Lumber, north of the storage site, also have been noticing an increase in gnats.
But at this point, "it's more of a nuisance," said Steve Mangum, Honsador's safety officer.
During a staff meeting on Tuesday, "it looked like the boss was practicing kung fu moves," Mangum said, throwing up his hands in a shooing motion.
Odors aren't so much of a problem, except when winds are blowing from the plant toward the offices, Honsador employees said.
Employees from other businesses such as the Macy's West warehouse and Delta Construction Co. also said gnats are noticeably on the rise. Delta employees have been experimenting with homemade liquid bait formulas to catch the gnats.
Jim Hodge, Hawaiian Waste Systems chief executive, said that garbage arriving from city transfer stations invariably will contain gnats.
His company is taking steps to ensure the compacted trash is stored safely in "airtight, watertight" bales that are then stored in shipping containers.
He denied that his operation is contributing to an increase in the gnat population. "Once those bales are quadruple-wrapped, and placed in the containers, they do not" add to the gnat population, he said.
The company has obliged requests by the Health Department to place the waste into containers as quickly as possible, Hodge said. The company also agreed to move containers that had been stored on a site near Kalaeloa Harbor, where the trash is to be loaded for shipment to the Mainland.
Hawaiian Waste Systems has asked the city to reduce the amount of trash it is accepting from 300 tons a day down to 100 until it actually starts shipping, Hodge said.
Carroll Cox, president of the nonprofit watchdog EnviroWatch, said there's no question Hawaiian Waste Systems' delays have caused problems for its neighbors.
Cox said the city should cancel its contract with the company.
"They got the contract on the basis that they were ready to ship," he said.
USDA officials told The Advertiser that the company does have a compliance agreement to ship its waste directly to the Port of Roosevelt in Washington, where it is to be landfilled. But the officials said the agreement requires the trash be unloaded onto a stationary dock and the port does not have one.
Hawaiian Waste Systems, meanwhile, is asking permission to unload at an alternative dock in Oregon, and that is what's causing the delay.
"They can't fulfill their contractual agreement and that is not in the best interest of the taxpayer," Cox said.
City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz this week introduced a resolution demanding that an audit be done looking into the reasons for the delays.
"I have health and safety concerns regarding our 'opala being stored at the contractor's facility since September," Dela Cruz said in a statement.
"Even though the shipping of our trash is an interim solution to managing our solid waste program, I don't think we should put the public at risk by allowing our trash to just sit around in Campbell Industrial Park. The public has a right to know what is going on and how we should fix it."