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Landfill nears capacity; Hilo dump could be full in a year; options ‘limited’

Closure of the Hilo landfill remains a moving target, but the East Hawaii rubbish dump could reach capacity in as little as a year.

That’s what Hawaii County Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said during meeting last week in Keaukaha.

He clarified Monday that the landfill’s limit could take as long as three years to reach, depending on how much waste is produced.

“One’s probably very conservative and very liberal,” he said, regarding the estimates.

The county is working with a contractor to come up with a closure plan that meets environmental standards.

Kucharski said that could cost the county $10 million to implement, but he added that figure could increase depending on what the plan requires.

Closure of the landfill has been an issue for decades. The life of the landfill has been extended by increasing its slope and recycling, but Kucharski said the county is not planning on receiving any more extensions from the state Department of Health.

Once full, waste would be trucked to the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu.

“Our options are somewhat limited,” Kucharski said, regarding waste disposal sites.

Between 175 and 220 tons of garbage are dumped at the Hilo landfill each day, Mike Kaha, solid waste division deputy chief, said last month.

Another issue is reducing the amount of waste the county puts in its landfills. That was the idea behind a composting facility for organic waste, but its planned placement near the Panaewa farm lots is facing push back from nearby residents who worry about the smell and noise.

“We have nothing against compost,” Maile Lu‘uwai, Keaukaha-Panaewa Farmers Association president, said Thursday evening during a Keaukaha Action Network meeting. “It’s a great idea, but this cannot be in our community or any community on this island.”

Lu‘uwai and others who spoke during the meeting, attended by about 25 people including Kucharski, said the Hawaiian homestead communities often have to “shoulder the burden” for new infrastructure and facilities.

“We’re saying pau already,” she said.

One complaint was the county didn’t consult with the Panaewa farmers and residents before signing the composting contract with Hawaiian Earth Recycling last July. The facility would cost $10.5 million to build.

A draft environmental assessment released last August said the facility would compost 28,000 tons of organic waste its first year in operation and ramp up to 35,000 tons by year 10. The project includes an odor control plan, but residents say they need to be convinced there wouldn’t be an issue.

The planned composting facility site on Hoolaulima Road is located less than 1,000 feet from the nearest occupied farm lot, according to the county’s property tax website.

Greg Goodale, county solid waste division chief, said that site was chosen because it was at one time considered for expansion of the landfill and is near solid waste facilities.

“Based on what the county has seen, the sites we toured, our feeling is we don’t think there is anything to worry about in terms of odors,” he said.

Kucharski said the county is delaying approval of its environmental assessment while it sees if another site is available.

Construction was expected to begin this April.

“We’re looking around the island,” he said. “We already have looked for a place in Hilo. We’re looking at other places.”

Lu‘uwai, who is visiting similar composting sites in Washington state this week with another association representative, said a lawsuit would be filed if the county didn’t find another location.

During the Keaukaha meeting, residents also expressed concern about other industrial operations near the homestead community and evacuation during a tsunami.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said she is working with the state Health Department to install an air-quality monitor for the community. She said she also plans to introduce a resolution urging the county to update its emergency response plan to address the community’s concerns.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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