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Landfill fines pile up


Hawaii County has been fined more than $350,000 by the state Department of Health for alleged solid waste permit violations at the Hilo and West Hawaii landfills.

According to a written statement issued Thursday by the department’s Solid Waste Section, a compliance inspection in May 2013 found that the county failed to cover disposed solid waste at the Hilo landfill with daily cover for about 28 days in early 2013, failed to monitor for potentially explosive methane gas along the landfill’s perimeter for two quarters between September 2012 and June 2013, failed to sample groundwater quality as required at least once, and failed to ban and remove whole tires from the active disposal area.

Steven Chang, the state’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch manager, said landfills are to be covered with either 6 inches of dirt or secured tarps at the end of each day. He said the cited violations were based on reviews of the county’s own records. Chang said there haven’t been any previous cover problems at the Hilo landfill, but similar violations have occurred at other landfills in the state.

“It’s something that seems to keep coming up, and it really shouldn’t, because this is the thing that separates a modern landfill from an open dump,” he said.

The written statement said the violations occurred between Jan. 1 and May 31, 2013, “over many areas of the landfill including closed and active disposal areas.”

Chang said records indicate “gaps in (the county’s) monitoring of methane gas and the groundwater.”

“They’re required to do it on a quarterly basis and we did not see reporting of that,” he said.

The Department of Health ordered the county to correct the violations at the Hilo landfill and pay a penalty of $328,190.

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, the county’s director of environmental management, said the county has requested a hearing to contest the allegations and the order.

“We’ve asked for a hearing because, one, we’re dealing with so many allegations, and two, a lot of the concerns have been addressed, because what we call our alternative daily cover, the tarps, they were on order. They hadn’t arrived. They’ve arrived so we have them. We’ve also ordered additional gravel, and you’ll also see that reflected in the mayor’s amended budget,” she said.

“We’ve suggested that one way to address some of their concerns, because they don’t come up that often, is: What if we take pictures at the end of every day and send you a picture so you can see that we did the cover?”

During a March 15, 2014, inspection at the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu, officials discovered unpermitted storage of between 800 and 1,000 tons of scrap metal and appliances, imposed a fine of $21,900, and ordered the county to stop accepting and accumulating scrap metal and so-called “white goods” — discarded large appliances — and to dispose of those items.

“In current practices, a lot of this stuff is collected at the transfer stations or left by the homeowners,” Chang said. “And the way the county has been operating is they basically bring in a company to collect the stuff and take it directly for recycling. I guess for a period of time they were collecting the material themselves and taking it to the landfill and storing it there.”

Leithead Todd said the West Hawaii violations occurred during a contract lapse for the removal and recycling of scrap metal.

“We were closing out one contract and issuing another contract,” she said. “And in the interim, there was a period where the proposed contractor hadn’t lined up all their permits yet, so we had (the scrap metal) piling up at our transfer stations. So we had to haul it and store it temporarily (at the landfill). Then there was a protest on (the contract) and we just got that settled, so those scrap metal piles are being taken care of right now.”

HMP Inc., which does business as Business Services Hawaii, was awarded the contract, but the award was disputed by another bidder, Big Island Scrap Metal LLC. Big Island Scrap Metal’s motion for a summary judgment and request for an administrative hearing was denied April 10 by David Karlen, senior hearings officer for the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Leithead Todd, who took over the environmental management post early last summer, said she wants to set up meetings to negotiate a settlement with the state.

“We’ve been talking with them and they seem amenable to working with us,” she said. “And some of the things that came up at the end of last May no longer exist, as far as we’re concerned, because we’ve addressed those issues since I’ve come on board.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.