HILO — Hawaii County is poised to issue a 10-year contract to divert most of its waste from the county’s two landfills, a contract that would all but close the door on the prospects for a waste-to-energy facility that has been endorsed by Mayor Billy Kenoi.
The multimillion-dollar contract, for a private vendor to take organic waste that would otherwise be landfilled and make compost out of it to sell to the public, was solicited and then rejected last year. The County Council this year has considered and repeatedly postponed a resolution that would allow the Department of Environmental Management to go ahead with a multiyear contract.
Now, the council and also the Environmental Management Commission have undertaken in-depth briefings with DEM to make sure the county is taking long-term plans into account as it considers a process that could divert 60 percent of the garbage away from the landfills.
“Yes, we do need to talk about the overall solid waste management for this island. Yeah, OK, it’s all talk,” an obviously frustrated Dora Beck, acting environmental management director, said last week. “We need to do something, and I need to talk with the administration, about what steps we can take, to move in some direction. Administration is talking about waste-to-energy. So I need to find out what, where we’re going.”
Kenoi did not return detailed telephone messages for comment by press time Monday.
The composting plan, as well as a status report on how much life remains in the Hilo landfill, are on the agenda Wednesday for the Environmental Management Commission’s meeting in Kona. The meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., is scheduled to be held in the liquor control conference room at the West Hawaii Civic Center.
Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille brought department heads to council chambers last week for an hourlong update. The council wasn’t satisfied all its questions were answered, so the update will resume at the council’s March 27 Environmental Management Committee meeting.
“My purpose is to make more informed decisions and to understand the interrelated nature of the various aspects of solid waste disposal with emphasis toward a far-sighted vision, not just what’s good for the economy today but good for the long run,” Wille said.
Kenoi said last year he favors a waste-to-energy incinerator similar to the H-Power plant on Oahu as a solution to the county’s growing garbage problem and the imminent closure of the Hilo landfill, which is estimated to have less than five years remaining. He tempered his remarks, however, by saying no decision would be made until factors such as cost and community input are taken into account.
The County Council in 2008 killed a proposal by former Mayor Harry Kim to build a $125 million facility because of concerns over the cost.
Waste-to-energy isn’t considered cost-effective for a garbage stream of less than 500 tons per day, according to a spokesman for Waste Management Inc., which operates the plants in other states. Hawaii County’s current waste stream, before any organic waste is removed, is just under 200 tons per day at the Hilo landfill and just under 300 tons per day at the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu, Solid Waste Director Greg Goodale told West Hawaii Today on Monday.
When questioned by the council last week, Goodale and Beck seemed doubtful the county could support a waste-to-energy facility with the current garbage stream, especially if aggressive recycling, mulching and composting programs are also pursued.
“Especially when you look at organics management, are able to divert upwards of 60 percent of the waste stream to a program like an organics management program that has a beneficial use here on the island, and then you look at the remainder after that 60 percent has been removed from the waste stream, what’s left … that’s the biggest question that’s got to be answered, what the remainder is and what that represents in terms of the type of facility that would be viable here on Hawaii Island,” Goodale said. “If you look at our overall tonnages here on Hawaii Island, we’re operating on a different order of magnitude than a lot of places that are utilizing some of these types of systems.”
“Waste-to-energy requires a certain amount of feedstock to produce energy to make it profitable. we’re not quite at that point yet where we have that answer,” Beck said. “We haven’t quite gotten into that, but we will need to do that in the next few months, to start thinking seriously about that option. Without further consultation with the administration, I’m not saying that’s definitely what we’re going to do, just that it needs to be thought out.”