Tuesday, October 13, 2015         

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Repairs to landfill let dumps reopen

City trash convenience centers and transfer stations are again up and operating

By Gary T. Kubota



The city said last week all of its refuse disposal facilities are open to the public and back to normal operations three months after a major storm damaged the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, depositing waste in the ocean and eventually along residential and resort shorelines.

Restrictions imposed during the landfill repairs have been lifted at all six convenience centers — Ewa, Laie, Wahiawa, Waianae, Waimanalo and Waipahu, along with the Kapaa, Kawailoa, and Keehi transfer stations, the city said last week.

State health and federal environmental officials who have been monitoring the progress said the city has met compliance benchmarks set by them.

"We're definitely pleased with how they're making progress," said Dean Higuchi, Hawaii spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The state Department of Health was still reviewing the possibility of taking enforcement action, after witnessing medical waste like vials and needles along the shoreline.

While health officials determined the medical waste was sterilized, none of the waste should have left the landfill, said Gary Gill, the department's deputy director for the environment.

Shortly after discovering refuse in the ocean, state health officials issued a brown water advisory warning residents that bacterial levels were high in the nearby ocean and that they should keep out of shoreline waters.

"It was a dramatic failure of the landfill operation," Gill said.

Gill said he wouldn't characterize the landfill as fully restored because the sedimentation basin system still needs work.

But he said the city and landfill operator Waste Management of Hawaii Inc. have been doing their best and made improvements intended to avoid the damage that occurred on Jan. 13.

Joe Whelan, general manager of Waste Management in Hawaii, said his firm has spent more than $10 million in improvements and repairs, including repairs to the liners and the development of a concrete channel to divert storm water away from the landfill.

Whelan said the landfill experienced a 100-year storm in January and two storms in December — all totaling 22 inches of rain in 20 days.

The landfill usually accepts about 600 tons of refuse a day but sometimes takes 1,500 to 1,900 tons a day, when one of the city's two boilers at its H-POWER plant needs to shut down for maintenance, he said.

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