Oahu trash may begin shipping to Mainland within a few days
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
The company with a contract to ship O'ahu's garbage to the Mainland should get approval in the next few days to start transporting trash, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said yesterday.
Hawaiian Waste Systems has been collecting garbage from the city since Sept. 28 and was expected to begin shipping it to the Mainland in October. Instead, about 20,000 tons of garbage have piled up at Campbell Industrial Park while the company has been waiting for approval from the USDA.
USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins said yesterday, "I expect the thing will be wound up here right away."
The company needs two approvals from the USDA — a "finding of no significant impact" and a "compliance agreement."
USDA officials "are preparing to go ahead and put out an announcement on the finding of no significant impact. And I expect that announcement will come out ... in the next couple of days," Hawkins said.
USDA officials "have been on a parallel track with Hawaiian Waste Systems on the compliance agreement, so I would anticipate that would be signed right away, like just a couple days," Hawkins added.
Shipping trash to the Mainland is one way the city hopes to cut down on garbage going to Waimānalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, the only facility on O'ahu that accepts municipal solid waste. Hawaiian Waste's contract calls for shipping up to 100,000 tons of trash annually to a landfill in Washington state.
Hawaiian Waste president Mike Chutz said yesterday he had not received word that the USDA approvals are nearly done, and is skeptical that they are.
"I don't believe anything that the USDA says until they do it, and I don't even believe it after they do it," Chutz said. He added that shipping of waste out of O'ahu "has been approved for years," even before Hawaiian Waste became involved last summer.
Hawaiian Waste said it has spent more than $10 million on its Campbell Industrial Park baling facility.
Chutz said the USDA has taken too long to issue the compliance agreement while Hawaiian Waste has worked in good faith with both federal and city officials. Hawaiian Waste has responded to each question and concern posed by the USDA "and their failure to respond, (and) their continued request for information that they allegedly need, is untenable and irresponsible," he said.
"We have been frustrated from performing this contract which we entered into in good faith, and we've been prepared to perform throughout the course of this."
Asked how quickly it would take Hawaiian Waste to begin shipping once approvals are issued, Chutz said: "Until such time as I hear something from the USDA, I can't speculate as to what's going to happen."
CITY COUNCIL UPSET
Several City Council members have demanded that Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration begin talks to sever the Hawaiian Waste contract. City attorneys said they are in discussions with company officials, but have declined to tell even council members about the purpose or goal of those discussions.
Chutz yesterday also declined to discuss details of any discussions with city officials. "We are in contact with the city on a very frequent basis," he said. "They obviously are very interested in what's going on. We obviously are very interested in keeping them completely informed with what's going on."
Tim Steinberger, the city's environmental services director, would not answer questions but issued this statement: "We anticipate hearing from the USDA, and we'll continue to work with HWS."
City Council Chairman Todd Apo, one of the strongest earliest proponents of shipping trash to the Mainland as a means of diverting trash from the landfill, said he'd like to find out soon whether the Hawaiian Waste contract will move forward or be canceled.
"I think from our side, we need to get one of those answers — which way are we going to go?" Apo said. "I would like shipping to work but we can't drive a square peg into a round hole if it's not going to fit."
Councilman Charles Djou, head of the council Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, said he also has not been told what kinds of talks are taking place between Hawaiian Waste and the city.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Health fined Hawaiian Waste $40,400 for storing containers of waste in facilities for which it had not yet received permits.
Hawaiian Waste has an estimated 20,000 tons of waste stored in containers but recently stopped accepting any more waste from the city.
The city appropriated about $10 million for the contract, which calls for the city to pay $99.89 for every ton that's actually placed in a Mainland landfill. City officials said the company gets no money until it shows proof that the trash has been placed in a Mainland landfill.