Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Saturday, May 25, 2024 81° Today's Paper


This island’s trash snafu is no political treasure for mayor

Looks like Mayor Mufi Hannemann will leave City Hall before the thousands of tons of shrink-wrapped Oahu garbage stored near Kapolei departs for the mainland.

These events have hardly anything to do with each other.

The first involves the deadline for making official Hannemann’s run for governor, at which point he’ll have to quit being mayor. That comes on Tuesday.

The second involves gigantic bales of trash in pale green plastic that have been parked at Campbell Industrial Park and nearby sites for nearly 10 months, awaiting shipment to a landfill in Washington state. That won’t happen until the end of the month. If then.

There was a bit of excitement last week when it appeared the maiden voyage of the garbage cruise was finally about to set sail.

Word came from the dock workers’ union that the president of the company with the city contract for trash trips was about to make an announcement and that the vessel could soon cast off. Anticipation filled the air, just like the stink and bugs from the garbage.

After an inspection, federal agriculture authorities had recommended approval of the shipments. It seemed all was go for anchors aweigh.

But no.

The final OK didn’t come. It seems the official who would make the decision was pau hana for the day.

So with no barges available for three weeks, the transpacific consignment of trash will have to wait, yet again.

The delay was the latest since Hawaiian Waste Systems began taking in trash last September. It was supposed to get the load out in October, then December. In January, the deadline was set for February. That became April. Then the company asked the city to stop the opala flow.

In May, the state Health Department fined the company $40,400 for illegal waste storage. The same month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved transferring the stuff to the mainland. Still, no shipments were made while an agreement between the feds and the company was pending.

To be fair, the holdups are mainly due to the agriculture agency’s concern that Hawaii bugs could survive the suffocating bales and blight the continent. (It would be nice if the department were just as concerned about mainland creatures and plants messing up the islands, but that’s a grievance for another time.)

Even the City Council, familiar with the snail’s pace of government operations, became frustrated. Members talked about yanking the contract. But since there are no charges for shipping and handling until the trash hits mainland dirt, they kept the contract in place.

Back in 2004 when the idea of burying our trash in someone else’s backyard began gaining traction, Mayor Hannemann had just won his first election. In the six years since, he got recycling started, albeit reluctantly, and flexed for more HPOWER. But these are not big-shoulder initiatives; they are what municipal leaders are supposed to do.

The fiasco of trash-shipping cannot be laid at his feet. But as he walks away from Honolulu Hale, some of the scraps will stick to his shoes.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.


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