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County may raise waste tipping fees


Stephens Media Hawaii

Faced with an almost 300 percent increase proposed in state surcharges on landfill operations, Hawaii County may have to raise tipping fees for commercial garbage haulers, a price hike likely to be passed on to consumers.

The surcharge, currently 25 cents to 35 cents a ton, could rise to as much as $1.35 a ton under a bill that has so far seen little traction in the state Legislature.

The state surcharge, which is used to pay for the state Department of Health’s monitoring of solid waste operations, is one aspect of an increasing rise in costs, leading county Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd to consider whether the county would be better off adding a cost factor, similar to the Department of Water Supply’s power cost component on water bills, to account for costs the department has no control over.

The state hasn’t raised its surcharge since 1997, said Lene Ichinotsubo, an engineer in the Health Department’s Environmental Management Division.

“The bill has been introduced many times,” said Ichinotsubo.

Tipping fees account for about $6.3 million of the county’s roughly $25 million solid waste budget. Meanwhile, costs continue to increase for fuel, equipment and union contracts, Leithead Todd said.

Leithead Todd said a $1 per ton increase would add $419 a day to landfill costs, as the county’s two landfills together handle about 419 tons of garbage. The county currently charges private haulers $85 a ton, a fee that hasn’t been raised since 2009.

“It’s a cost we can’t control,” Leithead Todd said. “This is a very preliminary evaluation. We really need to analyze our operations. What are our actual costs, and where can we achieve savings? Do we need a rate study?”

Other aspects under discussion with the county Environmental Management Commission include tackling the county’s Integrated Resources and Solid Waste Management Plan. The county had adopted a five-year plan in 2009, but the state Legislature subsequently decided plans need be adopted only every 10 years. The question becomes whether to create a whole new plan or tweak the current one, Leithead Todd said.

The commission has included on its agenda for next week a discussion of the plan and whether a Solid Waste Advisory Committee should be created to explore solid waste options.

The meeting is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Aupuni Center in Hilo.

The 2009 plan, at a cost of $500,000, included such unpopular recommendations as a “pay as you throw” bag-tag system for residential garbage. The plan also found that it would be cheaper to expand the Hilo landfill than to truck garbage across the county to Puuanahulu; a more recent county study seemed to indicate the opposite.

The plan also had no recommendation for a waste-to-energy incinerator or other such waste conversion technology — the direction Mayor Billy Kenoi wants to go. Kenoi has said he plans to have such a facility “on the ground” before he leaves office in late 2016.

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