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County says no conflict in hiring Wheelabrator rep

Five months ago, Michael Kaha signed in as the Wheelabrator representative at a pre-bid conference for a waste-to-energy incinerator in Hawaii County.

Last week, he was named to a newly created position as the county’s deputy solid waste division chief.

A lot has happened in the interim.

Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. on June 17 was named one of the three finalists vying for the multimillion-dollar Hawaii County project.

And Waste Management Inc., where Kaha had worked for 21 years, on July 29 agreed to sell its wholly owned subsidiary Wheelabrator to Energy Capital Partners.

The sale is expected to close later this year and still requires Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, Waste Management said in a news release.

Kaha, working from the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu, was Waste Management’s district manager. Waste Management representatives at the West Hawaii landfill or the Wheelabrator New Hampshire home office could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd told the Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday about Kaha’s appointment. She said he’d be working in Hilo two days a week, in Kona two days a week and in Waimea one day a week.

The commission members, who recently met Kaha when he gave them a tour of the West Hawaii landfill operated by Waste Management, were generally pleased.

“Good for him,” said Chairwoman Anne Lee.

When questioned about potential conflicts of interest, Leithead Todd said after the meeting that Kaha would have nothing to do with the bids on the proposed waste-to-energy facility.

“There’s a Chinese Wall,” Leithead Todd said, referring to the business practice of creating an information barrier to prevent exchanges of information that could cause conflicts of interest.

“We’ve already taken steps to ensure that there won’t be that perception,” she said. “We don’t want anybody to claim there’s any inside information.”

The other two finalists for the waste-to-energy project are Covanta Energy Corp., which operates Honolulu’s HPower incinerator, and Green Conversion Systems Inc., which recently was chosen to build an incinerator for the city of Los Angeles. Wheelabrator won a $125 million bid to build an incinerator in 2008 before the project was killed by the Hawaii County Council.

The county plans to award the bid in January, and then present a contract in April to County Council for approval.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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