Kenoi upbraids Wille over garbage incineration


An irritated Mayor Billy Kenoi took Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille to the mat Tuesday, publicly chastising her for questioning his bid solicitation for a waste reduction facility.

Kenoi, addressing the council Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability, fired a series of questions at Wille, peppering his questions with her first name, and repeatedly saying he was offended. Wille’s nonbinding Resolution 452 asks the administration to throw out the current request for proposals and start over with broader requirements to allow more companies to participate.

“I feel it’s insulting,” Kenoi said. “To introduce this after I humbly and respectfully asked the council for patience … to suggest the RFP reduces recycling or diminishes this administration’s commitment to it is offensive.”

Kenoi said the resolution served only to needlessly upset the public. He said because of procurement laws, no one knows what the three finalists are proposing, and to interfere in it would only further the chance of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from a losing party.

Wille, however, noted that all three of the finalists are waste-to-energy incinerator companies.

“I am afraid,” Wille said. “All of these uncertainties, where we’re buying into a 30-year very expensive plan … I’m afraid we’re going in the wrong direction.”

Her concerns were echoed last month by 31 testifiers. Another 16 written statements in favor of the resolution were received before Tuesday’s meeting. There has been little, if any, public support for incineration.

One of those came from Recycle Hawaii, who in an unsigned letter, criticized the request for proposals.

“A requirement for a single proposer with three years experience handling 95,000 tons of municipal solid waste generated by East Hawaii residents is a solicitation for a massive waste to energy facility. We agree with claims made by (Environmental Management Director) Bobby Jean Leithead Todd and Mayor Kenoi that the language of the RFP was broad, but there is far more to government solicitation than language … the requirements were prohibitive,” the letter said.

Most council members panned the resolution, voting 7-2 to send it to the council with a negative recommendation. South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford was the sole yes vote besides Wille.

“We know this RFP process is coming forward … It seems there is a force coming in saying, ‘It’s already messed up. You’re not doing it right,’” Puna Councilman Zendo Kern said. “Let this process to go through before we say the sky is falling.”

“I think it is is premature because we don’t have the details yet,” agreed Council Chairman J Yoshimoto. “It’s very difficult for me to stop something without even knowing what we’re stopping.”

The vote came after a short presentation about the shortcomings of mass-burn garbage incinerators.

“Every category of waste has its proper disposal route,” said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based environmental action group who addressed the council Tuesday.

Hershkowitz said a waste-to-energy incinerator would not eliminate the garbage, but reduce it by 75 percent, leaving 25 percent of toxic residue.

While the resolution is nonbinding, the council will get the final word when it’s asked to approve the contract with the chosen vendor. That won’t happen until next spring, after a new council is seated.

Wille said after the meeting she wasn’t upset about her public upbraiding.

“He can huff and puff and get his huff and puff out,” Wille said. “I think it was important to have the conversation.”