For a while yesterday it looked like several containers of city garbage that have been packed and sitting since October would be loaded last night onto a barge headed to the mainland.
But plans by Hawaiian Waste Systems LLC were once again put on hold, with the shipment delayed when a decision the company thought was coming from U.S. agriculture officials in Washington, D.C., did not.
The company was to ship test containers with bales of the city’s solid waste to the Roosevelt landfill in southwestern Washington state. The project has been delayed for months as the company sought federal permission to ship the trash.
A news release Thursday from the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (which represents stevedoring workers) said company President Michael Chutz would be giving an update yesterday on the shipment, "which has tentatively been scheduled to take place this weekend."
Federal agricultural officials inspected the containers yesterday and recommended approval of the shipment, but the company said late yesterday afternoon that it still needed to receive a formal go-ahead and that an agricultural official who would make the decision to lift the suspension had left for the day. Now that decision will not be made until at least Monday.
The next opportunity to send a test shipment will be in about three weeks when the next barge is available, the company said.
Chutz said the Department of Agriculture is concerned about the potential importation of harmful alien pests from Hawaii in the shipments. Chutz said the method of plastic baling, scientifically tested and used worldwide, kills pests in the waste.
Chutz said he was disappointed that a decision from Washington was not made yesterday but was gratified that a federal agricultural inspector in Hawaii is recommending to lift suspension of shipments.
"We got a favorable recommendation from those folks close to the process," he said.
"We’re committed to continuing the work."
City Councilman Nestor Garcia said he was not surprised to hear Hawaiian Waste Systems explain another delay. He said he has heard the company give various "scenarios."
"It’s always one thing or another. … It sounds like a record skipping," Garcia said.
Garcia said he would like the company along with other stakeholders in the project to appear before the Council’s Public Infrastructure Committee to see whether they all support the project.
For 10 months the business has stored wrapped bales of waste at its permitted facility at 91-236 Oihana St., and it began expanding its trash storage to two unauthorized nearby sites.
The state Department of Health fined the company $40,400 in May for illegally storing waste at Campbell Industrial Park, where the business has been holding 100 tons of waste in 250 shipping containers.
Hawaiian Waste Systems has asked the city to stop trash delivery, pending approval from the federal officials.
Chutz, at the news conference yesterday morning, said the method of plastic bailing kills pests by eliminating oxygen and has been scientifically tested and used worldwide.
"I am confident that our process is sound and allows us to ship this waste in an environmentally responsible way," Chutz said.
Council Chairman Todd Apo said the shipment of city waste could serve as a "safety valve" in the event problems arise in plans to expand Honolulu’s waste-to-energy project.
HPOWER expansion is scheduled to be completed by next year, before the landfill at Waimanalo Gulch is closed on July 31, 2012.
Chutz said several safeguards are built in the shipping process, including inspections before the containers leave Honolulu and once it arrives at a mainland dock.
In September the business reached an agreement with the city to temporarily ship up to 100,000 tons of solid waste off island each year at a cost to the city of $100 a ton.
Chutz said his company has the capacity to ship between 300,000 and 500,000 tons yearly.