W. Hawaii could get more Hilo garbage


A move is afoot to again truck Hilo garbage to the West Hawaii landfill, at least temporarily.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi is in the process of drafting legislation to create an exemption to the county’s current ban on trucking more east-side garbage to the landfill at Puuanahulu. The exemption would be in effect while the West Hawaii landfill crews work on establishing a 6-foot layer of “select waste” on the bottom of a new cell.

An uproar ensued last year when the county began a stealth program of trucking Hilo garbage westward in order to compare the costs of trucking garbage to expanding the Hilo landfill. That practice, once exposed by West Hawaii Today, ended with the County Council voting 8-0 to prohibit hauling of East Hawaii garbage to West Hawaii, except under an emergency declaration by the mayor.

Onishi said an exemption is needed while the new Puuanahulu cell is filled with the crucial bottom layer of soft garbage. New cells are opened at the landfill every year to year-and-a-half, said Mike Kaha, site manager for Waste Management of Hawaii, which runs the Puuanahulu landfill.

The bottom layer has to be first sifted to remove debris over 24 inches long or anything that could pierce the lining and lead to leachate, Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said Friday.

It’s taken a month to get about one-third of that layer down, said Kaha.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Kaha said of Onishi’s planned legislation.

Onishi said he learned about the issue during a recent meeting with Environmental Management staff. He said the department is currently working two crews, one at each of the cells. He hasn’t yet gotten the figures he’s requested, but he believes the county would save money by sending additional garbage to fill that bottom layer.

“If we can save money, and if it’s a large amount, it’s worth it to do that,” Onishi said.

Ka‘u/South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford was skeptical about the plan.

“They’ve been trying to send Hilo garbage to Kona for two decades,” Ford said. “They would love nothing better than to truck Hilo garbage with their fire ants and coqui frogs. We don’t want their pests.”

Garbage from 12 transfer stations is already being trucked to the West Hawaii landfill, which has an expected life span of another 38 years, or 27 years if the Hilo garbage stream is added. Garbage as far east as Laupahoehoe on the north side of the island and Naalehu on the south side is currently trucked west to Puuanahulu.

A consultant’s report last year estimated the county could save up to $1.5 million annually by trucking East Hawaii’s garbage to West Hawaii rather than expanding the Hilo landfill. Despite increases in fuel prices, the report countered a 2009 study that found just the opposite — that it’s cheaper to expand the Hilo landfill to handle east-side garbage.

The Hilo landfill has as many as nine years of life left, according to the most recent estimates.

The 226-page report, by consultant R.W. Beck, says uncertainties with federal, state and county permits and zoning, the landfill’s proximity to Hilo International Airport and the area’s heavy rainfall and highly porous land all contribute to it being a poor choice for landfill expansion. In addition, the county would likely be required to install an expensive landfill gas collection and control system, the study says.