Wille challenges waste reduction plan


Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille wants the county administration to yank a bid solicitation for a waste reduction facility, saying the specifications were written to favor a waste-to-energy plant.

The County Council Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability will hear the proposal, Resolution 452, at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Testimony by videoconference will be available at the county building in Hilo, the Waimea council office, county facility in Kohala, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center and the Pahoa Neighborhood Facility.

Wille, who is chairwoman of the committee, said she’s been studying agricultural and composting issues over the past months, and she believes the island needs the compostables to enhance the soil. She said farmers currently import compost and soil, and she would hate to see that resource burned in an incinerator.

“The more I learn, the more I worry,” Wille said. “Exactly the kind of entities I thought the best, they’re being excluded.”

The county issued a request for proposals earlier this year for a facility that would process garbage otherwise heading to the near-capacity Hilo landfill. It started winnowing through the bid responders in April and could name three finalists as early as next week.

But Wille contends the RFP was flawed because the specifications in the solicitation didn’t align with what Mayor Billy Kenoi had said his intentions were when he met with the council in January to explain the project.

She said the details of the RFP limited proposals to massive waste-to-energy systems by calling for a single proposer who has three years of experience handling 95,000 tons of municipal solid waste per year and requiring substantial production of energy.

That eliminated groups planning to partner to pool their areas of expertise, she said. The energy component, according to Wille, automatically limited composting facilities, which would create valuable compost and mulch rather than energy.

Kenoi characterized Wille’s resolution as “well-intentioned,” but “misplaced and ill-timed.”

“We’re very confident that the RFP that we issued was made as broad as possible so everyone would have a fair opportunity to participate in the process,” Kenoi said.

At the same time, he said, “We will not be a demonstration project for unproven vendors.”

But with the facility likely to be the county’s largest public-works project to date, Wille wants to put on the brakes to make sure the county’s going in the right direction.

“I just want to make sure that we’re being smart,” Wille said. “I just want to make sure that we are being far-sighted.”

Wille’s concerns mirror those of would-be bidder Richard Anthony, a San Diego-based consultant who said he has worked on zero-waste and resource recovery projects for several California, Texas and Colorado municipalities as well as on Hawaii County’s 2009 zero-waste plan. Anthony in April had unsuccessfully requested the county rescind its current RFP and start over.

Anthony said his work on the county’s zero-waste plan, which was endorsed by the County Council, sent him all around the island, and he said most people want to reduce, reuse and recycle their waste over building a facility that will need a steady stream of garbage.

“They weren’t asking for a solution; they’re asking for a garbage burner,” Anthony said at the time.

Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd disputed Anthony’s charges. She said the RFP was written broadly enough for any company with a successful track record to propose a solution to the county’s garbage problem.

“I don’t think we set the bar that high. We didn’t limit it,” Leithead Todd said at the time. “All we’re asking is that what you have works. They were free to propose something.”

Kenoi is set on having a facility on the ground before he leaves office in 2016. The ambitious timeline aims to have a contractor selected in January.

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

 

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