Land Use Commission Takes on City of Oahu Hawaii Plan to Extend life of Hawaii’s Waimanalo Gulch landfill

The immediate future of the Waimanalo Gulch landfill — a longtime source of contention on the Leeward Coast — is expected to be decided this week.

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM

Russell Nanod, community affairs manager for Waste Management of Hawaii, points out an area in the Waimanalo Gulch landfill set aside for expansion. Nanod gives frequent tours of the site for those interested in how the city is managing its trash.

Hearings before the state Land Use Commission are scheduled for Thursday and Friday on the city’s application to expand the area and extend the life of the landfill for 15 years.

The city Planning Commission, after a contested-case hearing brought by community opponents of the landfill, recommended granting an extension with no termination date — allowing the landfill to operate until it is full, but giving the city one year to begin the process of selecting a new landfill site.

City officials would be required to issue regular status reports on the progress of site selection.

That is not good enough for some.

“The community has been promised that it’s going to close,” said state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who represented the Ko Olina Community Association in opposing the landfill permit extension. “At some point in time it just has to end, and it should end now.”

The Planning Commission’s decision is not binding. Last year — when facing a May 1, 2008, deadline to close the landfill — the Planning Commission recommended a two-year extension, which was trimmed to 18 months by the state agency.

Waimanalo Gulch is scheduled to close Nov. 1.

The Hannemann administration says closing the landfill is not feasible at this time, and notes that the promise to close the landfill was made by a previous mayor.

The city contends the landfill is needed for another 15 years to handle solid waste until more alternative technology to handle solid waste can be developed and put in use.

Alternative solutions include the installation of a third boiler to increase the amount of trash that can be burned at the city’s waste-to-energy HPOWER plant, shipping of trash to the mainland and the continued roll-out of islandwide curbside recycling. The city has put out a request for proposals for other projects, including technology that would process solid waste, green waste and sewage sludge.

City Council Chairman Todd Apo, who like Hanabusa lives in Ko Olina in the shadow of the landfill, said he also thinks the promise to close the landfill should be kept, but he does not expect that to happen Nov. 1.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to close the gulch in November, but I think we’re seeing maybe a three- to five-year period,” Apo said. “Given HPOWER expansion, given some of the initiatives the mayor introduced last month, I think we can get it out of daily (municipal solid waste) landfilling within that time period.”

Although the landfill has encountered problems in the past, including a $2.8 million fine from the state in 2006 for permit violations, Apo acknowledged that management of the landfill has improved in recent years.

At least one outside party agreed.

Sue Smith, director of education and training for Keep America Beautiful, a national group that promotes community activism in keeping the environment clean, gave the landfill high marks on a visit last month.

“It’s exceedingly well kept,” said Smith, who visited the landfill while in Honolulu for the annual meeting of Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful, the state chapter of the national organization. “I’ve visited a lot of landfills in my career, and this one is amazingly litter-free.”

Russell Nanod, community affairs manager for landfill operator Waste Management, said he often gives tours of the facility to people who might have misconceptions about the site and the process, which includes crushing the trash and burying the debris.

The process includes lining the ground and covering trash, while the man-made hills contain systems installed to handle potential environmental hazards such as methane gas and leachate, the liquid that drains from the crushed trash.

“We have had many residents from the Leeward Coast take the tour,” Nanod said. “They were angry with us. I can’t say I changed the opinion of everyone, but many, at least, go away with a better understanding of why we use landfills as one of the mechanisms to dispose of our solid waste.”

Sources: Waste Management, Keep America Beautiful (KAB), Oahu Hawaii  and WIH Resource Group

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