Council tells mayor to slow down on plans for waste-to-energy plant


By NANCY COOK LAUER

Stephens Media Hawaii

The Hawaii County Council wants plenty of time for its own input and approval before the county chooses a waste-to-energy contractor, despite Mayor Billy Kenoi’s vow to have a plant “on the ground” by the time he leaves office in late 2016.

That could pose a challenge for the mayor, who must get council approval of any multiyear contract such as a garbage incinerator or waste-to-biofuel conversion system. Hawaii County has yet to put out a solicitation for bids, while Maui County, which awarded a similar project to a contractor in April, expects its project to be complete about that same time.

“Yes, it’s an aggressive time line, but I’m confident we can do it,” Kenoi said Tuesday.

The Environmental Management Commission is scheduled to get an update on the process at its meeting that begins at 9 a.m. today at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said Tuesday that she is still reviewing the 2-inch-thick solicitation the county put out before a previous council in 2008 killed a $125 million garbage incinerator project the county was contracting with Wheelabrator Technologies Inc.

Leithead Todd said she’s also evaluating myriad emails and phone calls she’s getting from companies and members of the public offering suggestions.

The council, meeting as the Environmental Management Committee, last week unanimously passed the nonbinding Resolution 123, “strongly urging” the mayor not to limit the county solely to waste-to-energy options, but to consider all alternatives, with an emphasis on composting and mulching,

as well as increased personal responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle.

“I worry that someday all of a sudden there will be a proposal,” said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who sponsored the resolution. “I’m really asking that (the administration) get us a little more involved, whatever the direction.”

The resolution also asks the administration to issue Requests for Information instead of Requests for Proposals in order to consider all alternatives out there, and that the responses be presented to the council, “so as to maximize its level of knowledge and keep the public informed.”

Resolution 123 is likely to be heard for its final reading by the County Council when it meets at 9 a.m. Aug. 7 in council chambers in Hilo.

“The council is always free to put their desires into a resolution form,” said Leithead Todd, a former councilwoman herself. “We would always take that into consideration.”

One of the problems is that the county’s garbage stream has been reduced, primarily because of the economic downturn, to a level that may not sustain a waste-to-energy incinerator. Currently, a total of about 419 tons per day goes to the island’s two landfills. Experts have said a minimum of 500 tons per day is required to make waste-to-energy incineration cost-effective with current technology.

With organic waste accounting for more than half the volume of the waste stream, several council members worry the county will be forced to dump it into a waste-to-energy plant to meet the required tonnage, rather than creating an organics program that offers mulch and compost to residents.

“We are not looking at the universe of technologies that are out there,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford.

Kenoi, however, said the county has considered and continues to consider a host of options. Two alternatives he’s not considering, however, are expanding the Hilo landfill or trucking Hilo garbage to the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu.

“The county of Hawaii has been struggling with this issue for 20 years now,” Kenoi said. “There aren’t a lot of options on the table.”

Council Chairman J Yoshimoto, who along with Ford and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi were on the 2008 council, seemed to agree with that assessment.

“There is no magic solution,” Yoshimoto said. “We just need to make a decision and move on.”

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

 

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