By NANCY COOK LAUER
Acting Environmental Management Director Dora Beck on Wednesday confirmed that the administration put a stop to hauling Hilo garbage to the West Hawaii landfill after it became public, not because of a predetermined schedule for what she called a “pilot project.”
“It was open-ended, but always short-term,” Beck told the Environmental Management Commission. “This test was not to be a springboard for full-scale long-hauling.”
An April 17 article by Stephens Media revealed the administration had begun sending about 80 percent of all the island’s garbage to the Puuanahulu landfill under what department officials said at the time was a 90-day pilot project lasting until the end of April. The article, coupled with Mayor Billy Kenoi’s comments the previous week at a Kona Town Hall meeting that there was “no plan by myself as mayor to truck rubbish to Puuanahulu,” caused community outrage that blindsided commissioners.
Most of the commission’s regular bimonthly meeting dealt with the garbage-hauling issue, as commissioner after commissioner voiced their opinions during the 2 1/2-hour session. But commissioners, whose goal is to “advise,” rather than “supervise” the department, found themselves with no real power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Commissioners were especially upset that the cross-county hauling had, unbeknownst to them, already been going on for two months when the commission met March 28 and heard a presentation on the R.W. Beck study that recommended the hauling as an alternative to expanding the Hilo landfill. Also at that meeting, commissioners discussed how they could serve as a conduit between the community and the department to keep both sides informed about important issues.
“How it got to be that last meeting we were talking about strategic goals and how we are meant to be that community channel … yet they didn’t think it apropos to tell us, ‘by the way, we have this study going on.’ It just doesn’t make sense to us,” said Commissioner Steven Okoji, representing North Kona.
“It’s important that we know when something like this is happening,” said Commission Chairman Sherm Warner, who represents the Kohala council district. “This has been a hot-button issue in the community for a long time, and the commission is due a heads up when this issue is considered.”
“I’d venture to say the department learned a lesson in PR,” added Commissioner Thomas Randle, representing Hilo’s District 2.
Commissioners unanimously passed a motion by Commissioner Russell Ruderman, representing Puna, to “urge the department to inform both the commission and the public about actions that affect the public.”
“I’ve seen over and over again how failure to inform the public makes things worse,” Ruderman said.
The motion was created after instruction from Deputy Corporation Counsel Ivan Torigoe about the commission’s purpose.
“Your role is to advise the department on issues like this,” Torigoe said. “It’s a fine line (between) advising the department and trying to supervise.”
Beck apologized to the commission, saying the purpose of the trucking was to test the assumptions in the consultant’s study that said hauling garbage would save up to $1.5 million annually by trucking the waste cross-county rather than expanding the Hilo landfill. A 2009 study found expanding the landfill to be the cheaper solution.
“Perhaps in hindsight we probably should have considered the reaction of the public,” Beck said.
The county needs to do something because the Hilo landfill has just five to eight years left. Expanding into an adjacent 75-acre quarry would extend the landfill another 47 years, according to the 2009 study, which was done by CH2MHill.
Beck said the results of the pilot project won’t be available for at least another month, since she has to meet with Kenoi and go over the results before releasing the report. The commission scheduled the report for its July 25 meeting in Waimea.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.