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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 8, 2010

Shipping our 'opala an imperfect solution

The deal seemed reasonable.

For just under $100 a ton, a private company signed a contract with the city to ship as much as 100,000 tons of O'ahu's trash to the Mainland each year.

But then the company ran into problems getting federal approvals for its plans. Now some 15,000 tons of garbage are stacked up at Campbell Industrial Park, creating a nuisance and possible health hazard. When the garbage will eventually be shipped remains uncertain, even as trash continues to arrive at Hawaiian Waste Systems at a rate of 100 tons a day.

Clearly, this isn't what the city bargained for when it signed the agreement.

The lessons here are threefold: HWS's performance going forward warrants careful scrutiny to ensure it fulfills its contractual obligations effectively. HWS has already asked the city to reduce temporarily its deliveries from 300 to 100 tons a day as a result of its problems, raising questions about whether it will meet its 100,000-ton goal.

The city also should consider re-evaluating the contract to seek more favorable terms. It's a reasonable move, especially since shipping is now expected to begin around Feb. 12 three months later than originally promised.

Finally, the state Department of Health was right to step in and investigate HWS's facilities, where some trash bales are torn, attracting insects and creating a public nuisance. Public health and safety should be paramount. HWS needs to repair those bundles and get them sealed and put in closed containers as soon as possible.

HWS's chief executive Jim Hodge expressed confidence that the problems will be resolved and his company will be able to fulfill its multi-year contract. Let's hope he's right.

Even so, if the city intends to continue shipping trash to the Mainland and at least for the foreseeable future, it must it needs to make certain that its first foray in this undertaking works well for O'ahu residents.

The city administration has already taken some progressive steps to reduce our dependence on shipping waste to the Mainland. It recently broke ground on a third H-Power boiler and is pursuing options for recycling organic waste and H-Power residue. These efforts to shrink our landfill use are critical for an island community that generates 1.5 million tons of garbage every year.

Nonetheless, the city's best estimate is that even with these projects, 10 percent of our 'opala will still end up in a landfill. It's possible that shipping trash to the Mainland will remain a necessary evil. If so, let's make sure it's done efficiently and reliably.