In one of the early signs that Hawaii County is serious about what is likely to be its largest public works project in county history, officials on Friday shuttled a dozen potential bidders to the Hilo landfill.
The would-be bidders represented a range of companies offering everything from waste-to-energy incineration to recycling, composting and gasification. Among those in the group were Covanta Energy, builder of Oahu’s HPower incinerator; Bodell Construction, builder of an expansion to the Puna geothermal power plant and Anaergia Inc., the winning bidder for Maui County’s proposed anaerobic garbage digester facility.
Also attending the bidders’ conference and landfill tour was Michael Kaha, representing Waste Management’s Wheelabrator Technologies Inc.
It was deja vu for Kaha, whose company in 2008 won the bid for a $125 million waste -to-energy incinerator contemplated by the Mayor Harry Kim administration. That project was killed after the County Council balked at the price.
With the Hilo landfill reaching capacity and no plans to expand it, there’s now a greater sense of urgency about using technology to reduce the Big Island’s garbage. The political atmosphere has changed as well, with the current County Council more open to the idea.
And, Mayor Billy Kenoi wants a project where the contractor assumes the upfront financial burden and most of the risk.
Those changes notwithstanding, Kaha doesn’t see much difference at the Hilo landfill.
“It seems like everything is about the same as it was nine years ago,” Kaha said as the bus shuttling the potential bidders drove around the site Friday afternoon.
Kenoi is set on having a facility on the ground before he leaves office in 2016. The ambitious timeline sets an April 15 deadline for the first round of proposals. A county panel, along with consultants, will evaluate the proposals and invite the top three proposers to respond to a more detailed solicitation.
The winning proposal will be selected in January, with a contract signed by April 2015.
In addition to getting glimpses of the 194-foot landfill towering over the site, the group also hopped off the bus to inspect the $9.3 million sort station/reload facility, a 6.5 acre parcel adjoining that building, a groundwater monitoring station and a heaping pile of mixed metal scrap and white goods.
The sort station, built in 2010 and left unused for more than a year, was enlisted in 2012 to remove paper, organic waste and green waste from garbage before it goes to the landfill. Trash is dumped onto the plant floor and workers operating a mini-excavator and loaders sort the recyclables by hand before reloading the truck for the landfill.
The county hired four extra workers in 2012 to handle the project, but the diversion rate of how much is removed remains at an abysmal 4.7 percent, even considering the “select” garbage the facility receives from commercial haulers. It’s not known how much the county is paying to operate the plant, as workers are rotated among the transfer stations in addition to the sort station.
The county is offering the use of the acreage, scales and sort station to the winning bidder.
“We’re not going to be building another landfill in Hilo,” said county Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd.
Leithead Todd said the Hilo landfill has just one and a half to two years of capacity left. The county could stretch the lifespan slightly by steepening the sides of the north face through a process called “sliverfill,” a procedure that has already been used to keep the landfill operating.
The West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu is operated under a long-term contract by Waste Management Inc., and the county must send a minimum of 200 tons per day there. Last month, the landfill handled an average of 263 tons per day, while the Hilo landfill handled 188 tons per day, according to an Environmental Management Department report.
Leithead Todd said the best proposal will have energy or fuel generation components in addition to waste reduction.
“If we’re able to use municipal solid waste and produce energy and reduce our reliance on imported fuel, that’s a win for us,” she said.
Because of Hawaii Department of Health rules, ash from a garbage-burner must be landfilled, Leithead Todd responded to a vendor’s question about whether it could be used in road paving, as is done in some other states. She said the Hawaii DOH considers it a “toxic byproduct,” and trying to change the rules would take a long time.
The county will deliver about 300 tons per day of garbage to the facility and it will haul off any residues to landfill, likely in Puuanahulu. The 300 tons is what will remain after the recycling and green waste is removed. She said having the new facility will not diminish the county’s commitment to recycling and green waste programs.
Hawaii County is the only county in the state that does not provide curbside residential garbage pickup, she added.
Kenoi said there is enough garbage to operate a 300 ton-per-day plant in Hilo by shifting the output of transfer stations on the north and south ends of the island away from West Hawaii and toward Hilo.
The type of waste-reduction facility is being left open to suggestions, but Kenoi is firm in his vow to consider only technologies that have at least a three-year track record.
“We want something proven,” he said recently. “We’re not going to be the guinea pigs of the Pacific.”