The Yakama Nation and others have filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to halt shipment of the city’s solid waste to a landfill on former tribal land in Washington state.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of individuals and groups, alleged the department should have prepared a full environmental impact statement before giving the go-ahead to the trash project.
"The Yakama Nation cannot and will not sit idle and allow the Columbia River Basin and Pacific Northwest environment to be destroyed by exotic wastes and invasive species — especially at the hands of the federal government and its for-profit contractors," said tribal council Chairman Harry Smiskin.
"We all know how well that has worked out for the citizens of the Gulf Coast region."
Yakama Nation attorney Julio Carranza said he expects a hearing this week in U.S. District Court on the groups’ request for a temporary restraining order to halt shipments.
Carranza said the first shipment by Hawaiian Waste Systems LLC is scheduled to leave Oahu tomorrow for the port at Longview, Wash., and the Roosevelt Regional Landfill.
Hawaiian Waste Systems head Michael Chutz said he’s not sure whether the lawsuit will have an impact on plans to ship the waste.
"We’re still evaluating our position. … It’s certainly not a happy situation," Chutz said. "We are ready, willing and able to ship."
Chutz said he’s not sure about the wisdom of shipping, then having a shipment sit on the docks, pending the outcome of a court case.
He said there are scientific studies showing the method of wrapping the waste will kill pests and that there are several inspection points of the containers from Hawaii to Washington.
He said the same method has been frequently used in Europe. "This is a tried-and-true process," he said.
The lawsuit said that according to a treaty in 1855, the Yakama relinquished more than 10 million acres of land to the federal government.
But it kept rights to some historic fishing, hunting, gathering and religious areas, including the region near the Roosevelt landfill, the lawsuit said.
The treaty also provided the Yakama with $200,000 from the federal government and set aside 1.4 million acres of land for them.
The lawsuit alleges federal officials did not meaningfully consult with the Yakama Nation as required by federal laws and failed to consider the potential irreversible harm that the shipments would have on its lands, resources, and cultural and religious practices.
The groups say the Agriculture Department failed to consult with the tribe before lifting federal regulations in 2006 that barred the importation of solid waste from Hawaii.
The lawsuit challenges the adequacy of an environmental assessment prepared by the department concluding no significant environmental impacts.
It alleges that an environmental impact statement would have fully documented and disclosed to the public the actual risks and possible harms from shipping the waste.
Other groups filing the lawsuit include Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Columbia Riverkeeper and Washington state residents Dawn Stover and Daniel Lichtenwald.
The city entered into a contract with Hawaiian Waste Systems in September to ship a portion of its waste, pending the completion of a third boiler at the HPOWER garbage-to-energy plant.
But its lack of federal approval forced the business to ask the city to halt delivery of trash and left 100 tons of waste in 250 shipping containers at Campbell Industrial Park.
Acting Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city is hopeful Hawaiian Waste Systems will be able to ship the waste to Washington.
"But we’re obviously frustrated with the repeated delays, and we’re continuing to carefully review our options, including potential termination of the contract," Caldwell said. "We will evaluate this situation and take appropriate action if necessary."