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Landfill operator indicted for waste on Oahu shores

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 02:51 p.m. HST, Apr 30, 2014

A federal grand jury handed down an indictment Wednesday against managers of the city's Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill in connection with a series of storm water overflows that caused trash, including syringes and other medical waste, to flow into the ocean and wash back ashore at Ko Olina and other Leeward Oahu beaches over three years ago.

The 13-count indictment charges violations of the federal Clean Water Act by Waste Management of Hawaii, which designed, built and has operated the Kahe Point landfill since 1989. Houston-based parent company Waste Management Inc. is among the largest solid waste disposal companies in the United States.

The last of the three major rainstorms occurred on Jan. 13, 2011, causing wastewater to overflow from one of the cells of the landfill and into the ocean. Reports of debris washing up came from Leeward beaches from Kalaeloa's White Sands to Maipalaoa in Maili.

WMH general manager and vice president Joseph Whelan and environmental protection manager Justin Lottig, both defendants in the indictment, could face time in federal prison if found guilty of allegations. Both are still in their positions with the company. 

If convicted, the company faces a maximum criminal fine of $500,000 for each count. 

The state Department of Health said Waste Management provided documentation showing medical waste had been sterilized and was not considered infectious, although the public still was at risk of puncture wounds. Warning signs, however, were not removed for nearly two weeks.

The landfill, the only one on Oahu that accepts municipal waste, was closed nearly two months to the general public after the January 2011 overflow.

Last November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city and Waste Management to take immediate steps to address their violations and avoid a repeat occurrence of the overflow. The company was ordered to complete work on equipment to separate storm water generated outside of the landfill from storm water generated within the landfill.

William McCorriston, WMH attorney, said the indictment is without basis, and "reckless and ill-advised" on the part of local U.S. attorneys. The company's employees acted immediately and "heroically" to prevent damage to life and property, including diverting flood water away from the nearby Hawaiian Electric power plant, he said.

The company issued a statement saying, "We believe there is no basis for these charges by the U.S. Attorney's Office and we intend to vigorously defend against this extraordinary action." 

"We operate our facilities with the utmost regard for the health and safety of employees, neighbors and the environment," company officials said.

City Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said Wednesday in a statement that corrective action has been taken to avoid a recurrence. "The city is satisfied with the ongoing operations of the landfill," she said. The city will not comment on the litigation, Kahikina added.

Grand jury indictment of Waste Management of Hawaii, Inc.

WMHI indictment press release

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1local wrote:
fine the managers directly - take it from their salary increases.
on April 30,2014 | 01:57PM
Mythman wrote:
OMG, the US attorney actually indicted a local of the C&C?
on April 30,2014 | 02:21PM
ellinaskyrt wrote:

No. The only defendants are Waste Management of Hawaii, a subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc., which is based in Houston, as well as Waste Management of Hawaii's general manager and vice president Joseph Whelan and environmental protection manager Justin Lottig.

13 counts times $500,000 per count = $6.5 million. Sounds like a lot, but when you realize it's less than 1% of Waste Management, Inc's revenue last year ($14 billion), you can't help but shake your head. (Check my math & feel free to correct it. Waste Management's profits are noted on their corporate website.)

This proves though that regulation like the Clean Water Act are sorely needed, and must be enforced. Political calls to deregulate and have the industries regulate themselves are proven inane.

on April 30,2014 | 03:18PM
Hahaione2000 wrote:
what company is this? donʻt want to do work with companies whose employees conspire to produce false applications
on April 30,2014 | 04:18PM
kukunaokala wrote:
14 billion from Hawaii, or from the rest of their contracts? A bit misleading to say the least.
on April 30,2014 | 08:09PM
postmanx wrote:
My thoughts exactly, the feds are actually enforcing the Clean Water Act? This is great news for humanity.
on April 30,2014 | 06:02PM
iwanaknow wrote:
In their defense this small fine of 6.5 million is just a part of doing business in Hawaii. It's been folded into their operating expenses for next year and they'll make a bigger contribution to their favorite politician(s). We have short memories and they'll just juice their fee's and it's business as usual.............move along folks, there is nothing to see here. Otherwise trust but verify.
on April 30,2014 | 03:36PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
When are the Feds going after those who dumped ordinance off the Leeward Coast? Oh wait, U.S.military, Feds, same company ok that explains it.
on April 30,2014 | 04:47PM
HD36 wrote:
Bad but microscopic cmpared to the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. This floating landfill, the largest of the floatillas, is estimated at 5.8 million square miles of floating garbage. To put it in context, the US measures only 3.7 million square miles. These are causing massive dead zones in the ocean. Hopefully they'll still be some fish in a decade.
on April 30,2014 | 05:09PM
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