Waimanalo Gulch is off the table, and a new committee must choose among sites that are bound to be controversial
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 2:22 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
A nine-member committee to recommend where Oahu should cut out a new landfill has been quiet and civil as members have established criteria to judge various locations. But it's the calm before the storm.
"It's going to get more passionate," said Tesha Malama, Kalaeloa director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority and one of only two Leeward Oahu members on the panel.
The committee, appointed by Mayor Peter Carlisle, will next meet on Aug. 16.
The predecessor blue-ribbon panel that made recommendations in 2003 after being selected by then-Mayor Jeremy Harris exploded in disarray.
Waimanalo Gulch, which has been a landfill since 1989, was taken off the list after Jeff Stone, a developer of nearby Ko Olina, wrote a letter to the committee threatening legal action if the city did not find a new site for the landfill.
State Rep. Cynthia Thielen of Kailua and former state Health Director Bruce Anderson were among four members who walked out in protest. The committee had been insulated from political promises and economic self-interests throughout its process, but it "turned into what I considered a sham," Anderson wrote in The Honolulu Advertiser.
Anderson added that the committee was composed of "all good people who I am sure mean well and voted accordingly. However, my initial suspicions about their ability to make an objective and independent recommendation were confirmed."
As it turned out, the City Council ignored the 2003 committee's trimmed list of four and chose what is now Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill.
Once again, Waimanalo will be off the list. The current committee cannot consider Waimanalo, including its expansion, as an option, because Waimanalo Gulch has been "expanded to its capacity," said Markus Owens, a city environmental services spokesman.
The state Land Use Commission required the city last year to begin the process of identifying other possible landfill sites. It also scheduled the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill to close to solid waste a year from today and accept only ash from the H-POWER waste-to-energy plant. The city is appealing the deadline and asking that the landfill continue accepting solid waste for 15 years. The commission noted that it will take at least seven years for the city to build and open a new landfill.
Anderson was the only member of the 2003 committee to be named by Carlisle to the current panel, but he resigned to concentrate on his duties in his new job as president of Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
The present committee established 20 criteria to be used in judging the suitability of each of 45 sites for use as a landfill. Those criteria include the likely life of the landfill, its surrounding schools, health care facilities or parks and nearness to residential areas. The potential sites are all over Oahu, from Kaena to Punaluu, and include sites considered by the 2003 committee.
"It's kind of a blind thing," said committee member David Arakawa, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation. "We're going to determine the criteria and determine the weight, and each of those sites will be judged against the criteria and the weights."
He said the panel is taking "baby steps" toward deciding what to report to Carlisle. But the battle lines are already forming.
Committee member Chuck Prentiss, chairman of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, said the panel's process "has been very professional and mathematical." He also indicated confidence that the next landfill will not be in his district.
"The criteria that we have is pretty comprehensive," he said, "and I think if there's a reasonable evaluation of criteria, like sites on the Windward side, I don't see where they could get a high ranking … I see a lot of concern for wetlands and for areas that would drain into Department of Health-class waters."
Malama said the list of 45 includes a half dozen or so sites past Waimanalo Gulch up the Leeward Coast. "I really do not want to see any selection past the Waimanalo Gulch," she said.
"I've heard other people say, ‘Oh, this is a matter of not-in-my-backyard,' and really for me it's not a matter of not-in-my-backyard," Malama said. "I think that backyard is filled with a lot of infrastructure, just different facilities that really serve the entire island. I'm saying our backyard is full."
Arakawa said committee members are likely to "show their colors" and "a lot of strong feelings" when they meet in August.
"People get pretty heated. That might come to fruition later on when we start beefing about the sites or whatever it is."
"People in Kailua probably don't want it," he said. "People in Nanakuli don't want it."
As for himself, Arakawa said, "I'm interested in people who might go to the beach and step on a syringe. I'm interested in people who have to smell that thing every day."