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$20M landfill bond issue advances

Updated: 
May 18, 2017 - 12:31pm
Corrections: 
A previous version of this article inaccurately characterized the waste hauler involved in the Saddle Road accident. It was a private hauler, not a county hauler.

HILO — County administration has a bit more explaining to do before the County Council is ready to approve a $20 million bond issue creating a closure plan for the Hilo landfill.

The Council Environmental Management Committee on Tuesday advanced Bill 32 to the first of two required hearings before the council, but asked that Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski be at the next meeting to answer questions.

“I‘m feeling a little uncomfortable just saying, ‘Here’s $20 million; do what you want,’” said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter.

While council members were concerned about the cost of closing the landfill and monitoring it for 30 years, several were also concerned about what happens to Hilo’s trash once the landfill is closed.

“The big question, we already knew over the decade or whatever, we all knew the Hilo landfill is supposed to be closed. The question is, what are we going to do once it is closed,” asked Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha. “That’s the ultimate question. … That’s the big elephant in the room.”

Current plans are to truck the rubbish over Saddle Road to the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu, which has many years of capacity left.

The risk of such a plan was driven home May 9 when the brakes failed as a waste hauler tried to negotiate the turn off Saddle Road onto Mamalahoa Highway. The truck crashed through a guardrail, sending rubbish into the air.

The crash, which resulted in minor injuries to the driver, caused a widespread power outage that also affected telephones and internet in West Hawaii.

“Transferring to West Hawaii is not a popular plan on the west side,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara agreed. She asked if the county could get funding to improve the turn, even if it can’t reduce the grade.

“This was not a popular solution on the west side of the island and the worst thing that could happen for us as a county is to have a really nasty accident and have trash blowing all over Waikoloa,” O’Hara said. “That would paint a really bad picture of this effort.”

An estimated eight tucks a day would have to be hauled westward, according to a 2011 study. Currently two trucks daily are taking Hilo garbage to Puuanahulu. The county hopes to reduce the number of trucks by diverting more of Hilo’s waste through reducing, recycling, composting and other diversion methods.

Solid Waste Division Chief Greg Goodale said the county is also vigilant about driver training and equipment upgrades to try to prevent such accidents.

“We don’t take safety for granted,” Goodale said. “That’s something we deal with on a daily basis.”

The Department of Environmental Management expects to finish design plans by the end of the year to close the landfill. The county then must get the closure plans approved by the state Department of Health.

The Hilo landfill has an expected two years of capacity left before it fills up. The administration is contracting an engineering consultant for a $700,000 closure plan.

The consultant’s study will include an environmental assessment and a traffic plan update to evaluate the Saddle Road route.

“Basically when it’s full, it’s full,” said Goodale, adding the state Airports Division will not approve expansion of the Hilo landfill so close to the airport.

The money is expected to come from the state water pollution control revolving loan fund, but the council is being asked to authorize the bond issue to pay back the low interest loan.

The bond authorization serves as a pledge of security in qualifying for the loan, but it’s unlikely to be issued, said Deputy Finance Director Deanna Sako. The state revolving loan fund is preferred because interest rates are as low as one-quarter to one-half percent, she said.

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