Over the last several weeks, Oahu has experienced a series of severe and unusual storms that resulted in significant disruption and emergencies throughout the island — including at Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, Honolulu’s only municipal landfill. Waste Management, the company I work for, operates the landfill under contract to the City and County of Honolulu.
As we all know, a "100-year storm" hit Oahu on Jan. 13, on top of two previous back-to-back severe rainstorms in December that had already saturated the landfill and the surrounding area.
Most damaging was the resulting massive flow of storm water washing down the canyon toward the landfill.
Rainfall indicators showed that more than 11 inches of rain — estimated at greater than 200 million gallons of water — fell that day in the landfill area. That’s close to 60 percent of the average annual rainfall for the area — all in less than 12 hours.
|Editor’s note: A City Council committee hearing on the waste spill and cleanup will be held at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Honolulu Hale.|
At the time, we were in the middle of building a new diversion channel at an estimated cost of $15 million in order to direct floodwaters, just like those that deluged the landfill on Jan. 13, around the main area of the landfill.
Waste Management identified the need for the diversion channel years ago. We proceeded when we received the required permits. Unfortunately, without the completed storm water diversion channel, the massive amount of rainfall resulted in some of the waste from the landfill being carried out to the beaches below the facility.
We take the issue of waste on the beaches very seriously, particularly the appearances of medical waste. All the medical waste arriving at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill must be sterilized before we can accept it. State and federal laws require this.
Also, these laws require waste generators to fill out paperwork certifying that the waste has been treated before it comes to the landfill. While this waste should not be considered a biohazard, Waste Management agrees that the appearance of medical waste on nearby beaches is concerning.
Therefore, every day since Jan. 13, I have directed our staff to have cleanup crews scouring the leeward shoreline, augmenting efforts by the city and state. Working as fast as possible, our cleanup efforts have included the beach directly below the landfill and the shoreline at Ko Olina, White Plains, Kahe and other beaches where debris has been reported.
It is a reality in Hawaii that most beaches around the island will typically experience brown water following significant rainstorms — as is occurring around the island and throughout the state. Those storm water discharges will carry litter and other debris from roads, parking lots, yards and other materials throughout the island into the ocean.
For big storms, such as the recent one, there can also be sewage and other pollutants discharged from numerous sources.
Waste Management is working very closely with city and state officials to monitor — and clean — the beaches until water testing in the area shows normal levels and they are free of landfill debris. That determination will be made in cooperation with city and state health officials. These officials, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have approved our processes and procedures to clean up these areas.
In addition, the diversion channel that would have averted this situation is mere weeks from completion.
Until then, we encourage anyone who finds waste on beaches near the landfill to report it to Waste Management at 668-2985.