Metal piling up on Moloka'i
By Ilima Loomis
Junked cars and broken appliances are piling up on Moloka'i, five months after the county shut down the island's only metals recycler because of permit violations.
"I got a whole yard full of cars that I gotta get rid of," said Bobo Alcon, owner of Bobo's Auto Service.
Cheryl Okuma, director of the county Department of Environmental Management, said the county has faced an uphill battle in its search for a new contractor to take over the recycling operation. The low price of metals on the international recycling market and the high cost of doing business on remote Moloka'i have deterred potential bidders, she said.
But Okuma said the county is now hoping to find a contractor to operate the facility on an intermittent basis and hold "collection events" for scrap metal several times a year.
"We realize this is a very important issue to the community, and we want to address it," she said.
The county Solid Waste Division shut down its metals recycling facility on Moloka'i in December after finding that the operator running the service had violated state Department of Health permit requirements numerous times and was not able to stay in compliance.
Okuma said the operator had allowed a significant amount of material to accumulate on the site, and her department became "very concerned" that the county could be held responsible for the violations.
"It was a very hard decision to make, because we realize the public needs the service," she said. "But we couldn't face the possibility of being fined by the DOH."
Since then, the former operator has removed all but about 10 tons of the accumulated materials, she said.
The facility had been accepting materials, including vehicles, appliances, scrap metal, tires, propane tanks and car batteries, but Moloka'i residents have had no place to dispose of those items since it closed.
After two years of using an interim site, the county completed construction of a permanent metals recycling facility in March.
Bidding was opened March 30 for a contract to operate the facility, but no bids came in, Okuma said.
"It's a very difficult business," she said.
Hoping to reduce costs and make the contract more attractive for potential operators, the county revised the contract and reopened bidding in May.
This time, instead of running the recycling facility on an ongoing basis, the operator would only be required to hold "periodic collection events" two to four times a year, she said.
If that happens, she said, it will be important for residents to follow instructions for scrap metal collection events, such as dropping off materials only on designated days, to ensure the program complies with Health Department regulations and doesn't get shut down again.
Until then, residents will have to hold on to their cars and appliances.
"It is inconvenient right now," said GT Auto Repair owner Glenn Takata. "I know plenty of people who want to take their junks over there, and they can't do nothing."
Alcon said his business has had to rent a separate yard to store the broken-down vehicles he was waiting to dispose of. "I got stuff piled up," he said.
Driving around the island, Alcon said, he saw scrap metal accumulating on roadsides and in vacant lots.
"Not only cars — I see in the front yards some appliances, refrigerators, stoves," he said.