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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2010

Honolulu landfill operator, city fined $424,000 for berm violation

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state yesterday fined the city and the company that operates the Waimānalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill $424,000 for violating their permit.

The state Department of Health said the city and landfill operator Waste Management of Hawai'i failed to properly construct a berm that helps stabilize and support the western wall of the landfill. The city and Waste Management also failed to notify the department in a timely fashion of what had been done, and did not submit quality assurance reports on the berm as required, the department said.

The fine comes as the city is seeking approval from the Health Department to extend the life of, and expand, the landfill, the only municipal landfill on the island. A hearing on the city's permit application is scheduled for Monday.

With respect to the fine, Waste Management has already begun construction of a west berm buttress in accordance with new design specifications after getting the go-ahead from the Health Department, said Steven Chang, chief of the state's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch.

Chang said the berm was completed in May 2007. But the Health Department did not realize violations had occurred until it looked at final construction quality assurance reports that were submitted in February.

At issue was the plastic liner material used at the bottom of the berm constructed at the western, or Wai'anae, end of the latest segment of the landfill.

"There was some problem with the liner they used," Chang said. "Apparently, they used a different kind of liner."

While the failure to follow the design specifications that Waste Management's own subcontractors submitted was a serious infraction, it did not create a safety issue, Chang said.

Nonetheless, "we have to hold them to ... (the specifications) they told us they were going to do," Chang said. Further, he said, "if they didn't do it the way they designed it, they should have notified us. Three years is too long to come back and say 'oh well, we didn't do this properly.' "

City Department of Environmental Services spokes-man Markus Owens said the city only found out about the violation notice late yesterday.

The department "has not received the Notice of Violation from the state Department of Health nor received confirmation from Waste Management Hawai'i, which maintains and operates Waimānalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, as of the close of business today and is unable to comment at this time," Owens said in a written statement.

Waste Management and the city can ask to contest the order.

A public hearing on the city's request to extend the Waimānalo Gulch landfill will be held Monday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Kapolei Hale, in Conference Room A.

The city wants to add to the existing 58.9-acre landfill with another 36.9 acres for municipal solid waste.

The permit approval must come from state health director Chiyome Fukino. The draft of the permit can be found online at http://hawaii.gov/health/environmental/waste/sw/index.html.

The city was granted a permit by the Land Use Commission last year to expand and extend the life of the landfill.

But that permit also requires the city to shut down the West O'ahu landfill to all materials except ash and ash residue by July 1, 2012.

The city is appealing that decision in 1st Circuit Court, asking that it be allowed to keep the landfill open through 2024.