Forty-nine people made it clear to the County Council during four hours of testimony Friday that a waste-to-energy incinerator is not what they want for their island.
In no uncertain terms, testifiers ranging from Native Hawaiian activists to farmers, school teachers, a former Environmental Management official, former council members, a state senator and political candidates asked the council to support a nonbinding resolution asking Mayor Billy Kenoi to redo a bid solicitation for a garbage solution. One person spoke against the resolution.
“You have heard from many people today,” said Marie Correa, testifying from Hilo. “We the people do not want the proposed incinerator. Studies do not support Mayor Kenoi’s vision. Listen to the people you serve.”
The council, however, on a motion by Puna Councilman Zendo Kern, cut short debate and voted 6-2 against a nonbinding resolution offered by Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille.
Wille asked the mayor to throw out a request for proposals for a waste reduction facility and rewrite it to allow more companies to compete with recycling, mulching and composting plans in addition to mass-burn incineration.
“I’m afraid and I’m worried that we’re locking ourselves into going the wrong direction,” Wille said.
Kern said the council had originally voted for an RFP to go out, and shutting it down before anyone knows the responses is premature.
“We don’t have any information,” Kern said. “All we’ve got is, ‘The sky is falling.’”
“We know that we’re going to the large-scale incinerator. … What is the information that’s missing?” asked Wille.
Wille noted that all three finalists are mass-burn incinerator companies. In addition, the second-stage RFP issued to the finalists Thursday asks for specific price points on furnace boiler systems, ash-handling systems, scrubber systems, stacks and high-pressure steam turbine systems.
Some testifiers, as well as South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford, took Kenoi to task for his drubbing of Wille earlier this month after she introduced the resolution. Kenoi had publicly chastised Wille, repeatedly saying he was “offended,” because of her comments that the administration was reducing its commitment to recycling.
“We’ve been talking about this for a very long time and there’s no magic solution. … The RFP is a process and we need to let the process work. We feel the resolution is premature,” Kenoi told West Hawaii Today after the meeting. “We don’t know what the proposal is and neither does the council.”
Wille has said she tried to talk to the Kenoi administration about her concerns but was unsuccessful getting an appointment, thus requiring the resolution.
“Don’t succumb to bullying,” Dash Kuhr, speaking from Kohala, urged the council. “The public will back you up.”
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.
“It’s a waste of perfectly good trash,” said Sue Badra, testifying from the West Hawaii Civic Center.
“It should be clearly obvious that the RFP No. 3044 was flawed because the results only generated three large incinerator companies on the finalist list,” said Nelson Ho, a former deputy Environmental Management director. “Doesn’t that make you suspicious that the RFP criteria was too conventional, narrow and confining?”
Ho noted that the 2008 County Council rejected plans for a $125.5 million incinerator as being too expensive.
“It was too expensive then, what makes this council think that six years later, it will be any less expensive?” Ho said.
Several testifiers echoed concerns about Kenoi’s own former Deputy Environmental Management Director Hunter Bishop, who in a recent blog posting questioned whether the county had enough trash to justify an incinerator. Bishop, as he did while working for Kenoi, favors hauling Hilo garbage to the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, submitting written testimony as a private citizen, said he was on the 24-member Solid Waste Advisory Committee. The committee had voted unanimously against recommending a waste-to-energy incinerator, partly because the county’s waste stream is not large enough to economically support any such system and partly because an incinerator would undermine the committee’s stated goal of reducing waste and eventually achieving zero waste, he said.
“Consider taking the recommendation of those who studied this more than anyone else and move to zero waste instead of a trash-hungry installation that will require burning everything to be economical, while we continue to import compost and organic materials at great cost,” Ruderman said.
“The current RFP sets us up to be stuck with an antiquated, expensive means of dealing with resources, said James Weatherford. “There are better ways.”