HILO — Citing a “total lack of transparency” and a “complete disregard” of the legislative branch, North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago is calling for a top-to-bottom audit of the Department of Environmental Management.
The County Council is scheduled to consider Pilago’s resolution seeking the audit at its 9 a.m. meeting Tuesday in Hilo. The public can testify in person at the county building in Hilo, or by videoconference from the West Hawaii Civic Center or the Waimea or Pahoa council offices.
At issue is a pilot program the department quietly undertook Jan. 27, transporting garbage from the Hilo, Keaau and Pahoa transfer stations to the West Hawaii landfill at Puunahulu instead of dumping it in the nearby Hilo landfill. The addition of the added waste brought the amount of the county’s garbage being trucked to West Hawaii to 78.8 percent of the island’s garbage, compared to about half previously.
The department did not alert the council, the Environmental Management Commission or the public. In fact, it was going on even as Mayor Billy Kenoi assured West Hawaii residents at a Kona Town Hall meeting the county had no plan to truck Hilo’s garbage westward.
The project, which department officials said was a 90-day pilot program, would have remained a secret if tipsters hadn’t alerted council members and the media.
“It seems they were somewhat derelict in this,” Pilago told West Hawaii Today on Thursday. “I had to rein them in.”
The administration has promised a report detailing the costs and feasibility of trucking Hilo waste west rather than expanding the Hilo landfill, which is reaching capacity. But almost two months after the study ended, a report hasn’t been released.
Kenoi said the report will be presented July 25 to the Environmental Management Commission. It’s scheduled to hold its meeting in Waimea.
“I welcome the audit,” Kenoi said. “I think any time we have an audit, information comes forward that helps us do a better job.”
DEM Director Dora Beck said Friday she doesn’t oppose an audit, but she hopes it won’t distract the departmnet from its core mission.
“Right now my efforts are to work on communication with the council and the public,” Beck said.
Legislative Auditor Colleen Schrandt said her office is currently conducting risk assessment surveys to prioritize audit projects for the fiscal year that starts Sunday. The office has limited funds — an annual budget of just $451,484 once the required external audits are taken into account — but Schrandt said the council’s wishes are important.
“If this passes the council, obviously we’ll give it a lot of weight in the risk assessment process and development of the annual audit plan,” Schrandt said.
Pilago said he and Schrandt had briefly discussed the scope of an audit with the idea of limiting it to just the Solid Waste Division, but he believes the entire department should be subject to an audit, not just one division. In addition to solid waste, the department also oversees wastewater, recycling and vehicle disposal programs.
Pilago said the council showed its support of the department by recently approving its $33.8 million budget as submitted.
“The council gave the department great latitude,” Pilago said. “We’re showing our commitment by supporting their programs.”
A related bill, by Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart, also to be heard Tuesday, will give the Environmental Management Commission more power to review proposals from the department and the County Council.
This bill also came about because of the stealth garbage-hauling program said Smart, chairwoman of the council’s Environmental Management Committee.