Editor’s note: West Hawaii Today asked the three major mayoral candidates to comment on what they wished they’d accomplished while in public office and what they have recently learned from the campaign trail. Here is Mayor Billy Kenoi’s answer.
HILO — Mayor Billy Kenoi is proud of all of his administration’s accomplishments during his first four years, but he really wishes he’d done more about the trash.
Overall, though, Kenoi can quickly tick off a laundry list of accomplishments: shepherding the island through what he calls “the most challenging economic times” in the history of the county, reducing the size and cost of government, securing more than $115 million for roads and public transit and keeping the community informed and engaged through almost 50 talk-story sessions with his cabinet around the island.
The Department of Environmental Management generally has done a good job, Kenoi said, citing in particular the Wastewater Division, which prevented an 800,000-gallon sewage spill by finding a way to cap a leak near the Hilo airport.
“With all that we got done … there is this problem that has gone on 20 years now, and that’s finding a solution to the landfill,” Kenoi said. “If you look at all the things we got done, solid waste becomes a priority and something we look forward to getting accomplished in the next four years.”
Kenoi is now considering waste-to-energy technology as a way to solve the county’s solid waste problems. It won’t be the first time such a solution has been floated, but Kenoi hopes changes in technology may make the concept more palatable this time.
The county had solicited proposals in 2002 and 2006. But the County Council subsequently rejected a plan by Wheelabrator Techonologies, Inc., saying the $125.5 million capital expense and $9.8 million annual operating costs were too expensive, even if the plant made about $6.9 million a year in revenues.
“We believe if we can get the federal, state and county people together on this issue, we can tackle this solid waste problem that’s been around for decades,” he said.
Asked whether his perceptions have changed since hitting the campaign trail, Kenoi said he’s found a big difference in West Hawaii this campaign, compared to four years ago.
In 2008, he said, there was a “loud chorus” that was “very emotional” about the need for two counties on the Big Island.
“People were talking about two counties, and I don’t hear that anymore,” Kenoi said. “People treat everyone with respect and aloha. It’s been a humbling experience.”
He said he’s learned people are appreciative of the time and attention he and his administration have devoted to West Hawaii, from completing several major roadways and the West Hawaii Civic Center to placing more full-time Cabinet members in West Hawaii offices. He and his Hilo-based staff also spend one day a week in the Kona offices, he said.
Kenoi said he believes the community understands the issues and believes the administration has worked hard to address them.
“People still have their concerns, but there’s a sense that projects that needed to get done, got done,” Kenoi said. “I think over time, there’s a sense there is equity there. There is fairness. There is balance.”