The first shipment of Honolulu garbage to a mainland landfill is now expected to take place in about two weeks.
But after months of delays and obstacles since September, when Hawaiian Waste Systems first received approval to start shipping Oahu’s trash to a facility in Washington state, even the company president remains a bit skeptical.
"This operation has been filled with more unforeseen occurrences than anything I’ve ever witnessed in my life," said company President Michael Chutz. "I think the most accurate thing to say is, We’re eager to ship in two weeks. We’re scheduled to ship in two weeks. We believe that we’re 99 percent approved to ship in two weeks.
"But I won’t believe it until the containers are on a barge and the barge is sailing away."
The latest turn in the long-stalled trash shipping operation occurred July 9.
Hawaiian Waste Systems had prepared five containers of shrink-wrapped, baled garbage to be placed on a barge for shipment to a port in Washington.
The company said federal Department of Agriculture inspectors in Hawaii had approved the shipment but because of the time difference with the national USDA office in Washington, D.C., were unable to obtain the final approval in time to get the containers loaded onto the barge.
A USDA official said federal inspectors suspended the shipment after discovering some plastic-wrapped bales of waste had punctures and tears, and that Hawaiian Waste needed to re-wrap the bales.
The next available barge is scheduled to arrive in Hawaii in two weeks, and Chutz said he expects the final USDA approval to happen at any time before then.
The test shipment will include five to 10 containers, each containing up to 28 tons of baled garbage, Chutz said.
Chutz said any bales discovered to have holes in the wrap will be repaired prior to shipping. Sealing the bales is intended to kill insects or larvae contained in the garbage.
He said the company also was able to meet a deadline set by Mayor Mufi Hannemann to have all operational documents turned in to the city by yesterday. Hannemann said that without those documents — ensuring that the company had the approvals to ship to a mainland port — he was prepared to begin exploring the city’s options toward canceling the contract.
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.
Since then the process of receiving federal approval has hit various snags with the latest being the delay last week.
Hawaiian Waste already had asked the city to halt delivery of trash, which led to the company holding 100 tons of waste in 250 shipping containers at Campbell Industrial Park. State health officials fined the company $40,400 in May for illegal storage of waste.