Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Time to rev up landfill response


The city Department of Environmental Services has put out a plea for "patience" in the delayed reopening of the Waimanalo Gulch landfill. Closed two weeks ago in anticipation of a downpour and then kept closed in the wake of medical waste washing from the landfill into the ocean, this episode marks only the latest snafu in Honolulu's long struggle to manage its waste competently.

Unfortunately, public patience is in short supply, especially now that the landfill will remain closed for a third week.

Bulky items have been set out for collection, creating eyesores proliferating around the island with each passing day.

And yet the city administration still hasn't shown strong leadership — demonstrating in a high-profile, public manner that it has the situation well in hand.

Meanwhile, state and federal authorities have stepped up to provide the oversight on the operation — run by the contractor, Waste Management of Hawaii Inc. — that so far has been lacking from the city.

The state Health Department is investigating why storm water carried medical waste and other debris into the ocean, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Waste Management to develop a plan within a week to prevent a future recurrence of the spill into the ocean.

In the past, the landfill has drawn down state health fines — the most recent last year, for the failure to construct a berm stabilizing the landfill's western wall.

City officials have characterized the company's new management as running a tight ship, and they won't conduct any investigation until the landfill reopens; that just got pushed back to Wednesday.

Still, this latest series of mishaps demands an operational review to be released to taxpayers, who deserve a full accounting.

Mayor Peter Carlisle is on a steep learning curve on numerous issues, but the first lesson he must master is communications, particularly when it pertains to public health and safety.

Professionals have been hired to handle the more technical repairs and inspections, officials said. While that's appropriate, Carlisle has a role to play that he has not yet embraced: a take-charge mayor who shows his constituents that he can handle the city's most difficult problems.

Oahu residents have a right to feel dismayed at how basic public services have broken down. It's a stain on Honolulu's reputation as a tourist destination, and it's a failure of delivery to the people who live here.

The mayor needs to be out in front of this crisis with a plan for how city crews will ensure that the beaches will be kept clean — with or without the help of community volunteers — and how normalcy will return as quickly as possible.

Routine procedures won't be enough. For example: The current timetable has the bulky-item pickup schedule resuming on Wednesday, but those whose service day was missed will have to wait until their turn comes around again. This is unacceptable: The pickups should be accelerated.

It hasn't been so many years since Honolulu was on display for its systems failures — Ala Wai Canal, anyone? — so residents have a right to expect better than a muted response. Step it up, Honolulu Hale. Folks are now watching the trash pile up with a sense of disgust but in relative quiet. They won't stay quiet for much longer.

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