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Plans for the expansion of a construction debris landfill riles some Nanakuli residents

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    Makana Yabuno, left, Magno Oasay and Jerry Agustin worked Thursday on building a settling tank that will be used to wash dirt off trucks wheels for dust control at PVT Land Co.’s Nanakuli landfill.


    At top, heavy machinery sorted through construction debris.


    A large machine Thursday crushed and compacted debris in the landfill. It has a GPS tracker to make sure it goes over each section three times.


    PVT Land Co. is looking to expand its construction debris recycling and landfill operation in Nanakuli. On the left side is the finished slope of a landfill with a cover of grass starting to grow. The Waianae Mountains are in the background.

A vigorous construction industry on Oahu has accelerated plans to expand a special landfill in Nanakuli where some residents regard the facility as a scourge in their community.

PVT Land Co. Ltd., operator of the 104-acre landfill for construction and demolition debris, recently published a draft environmental study for expanding the facility by 75 acres on an adjacent site zoned for agriculture near the bottom of Lualualei Valley not far from homes.

The company, which runs the only landfill accepting commercial construction and demolition (C&D) debris on the island, said the expansion is necessary and in line with a 1970s city designation.

Without expansion a booming construction industry could grind to a halt and give rise to illegal dumping, the company contends.

“The closure of the PVT (facilities) would leave Oahu without a commercial C&D landfill,” the firm said in its draft environmental impact statement filed in July with the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

The Refuse Division of the city Department of Environmental Services “strongly” supports PVT’s plan, saying in written comments that the city would be saddled with the cost to develop and operate such a facility if PVT can’t expand.

PVT’s report considered the viability of 11 other sites the city previously identified as potential landfill locations, but concluded they aren’t feasible because of availability challenges, engineering problems and development constraints.

Yet in Nanakuli some residents oppose the expansion plan because of issues with existing PVT operations that include dust, truck traffic, farmland loss and altered land topography.

“There has to be a better option than putting another landfill on the westside,” Joseph Simpliciano said in a written comment to an EIS preparation notice.

The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, in a letter, expressed concern about losing 379 acres of agricultural land to PVT operations that include support functions around areas for burying debris at the two sites.

“The Nanakuli community has brunt the burden of C&D waste coming primarily from more easterly urban parts of Oahu for many years,” OHA’s then-CEO Kamana‘opono Crabbe said in the letter.

Some residents want to see the expansion site turned into a regional park as envisioned by a former mayor, while one of the most contentious claims is that dust from the landfill is making people sick.

Expansion needed

The landfill was started in the early 1980s on a 200-acre former quarry site the city identified in 1977 as suitable for landfill use.

PVT took over from original operator World Resources Corp. around 1990, and now daily takes in up to 3,000 tons of material delivered by up to 300 trucks hauling debris from commercial customers not allowed to dump at the city-owned Waimanalo Gulch landfill above Ko Olina.

Materials received include concrete, asphalt rubble, wood, rock, scrap metal, glass, furniture, mattresses, carpet, petroleum- contaminated soil and items containing asbestos if properly contained. The facility also is designated to receive wreckage from natural disasters.

Since 2014, PVT has been extending the landfill’s life by reopening filled areas to remove and reuse wood, concrete and other recyclable materials.

The company said it now recycles about 80% of what it receives, making it the biggest recycler by weight in the state.

Though recycling has freed up more space, PVT said several years of booming construction on Oahu with condominium towers, rail, road resurfacing and other things have accelerated the need for expansion.

Stephen Joseph, PVT operations vice president, roughly estimates remaining capacity at about seven years, though that depends on construction.

“It’s a little hard to judge,” he said.

The proposed new landfill would hold 11.9 million cubic yards of material and likely be in use around 30 years.

As part of the estimated $20 million to $30 million project on 179 acres, of which 75 would be for burying waste, PVT plans to install two renewable-energy generation systems.

One system, a photovoltaic farm, would generate about 8,000 to 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day.

The other system would use either gasification or anaerobic digestion technology.

A gasification system turns organic feedstock into a synthetic gas that can power an engine to produce electricity. PVT said this envisioned system would produce 7,200 to 24,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day from 43 tons of feedstock of which 38 to 39 tons would have to be acquired from sources other than wood PVT stockpiles underground, such as farms producing biomass.

An anaerobic digestion system, which uses microbes to convert organic material into a methane-rich biogas to fuel an engine, would produce about 45,000 kilowatt- hours of electricity per day from 50 tons of feedstock.

Residents’ concerns

In its draft EIS, PVT said community concerns are being addressed.

One big concern has been dust that some residents believe has made people sick.

“Residents in the neighboring Coral Sands community have suffered since 1992 from respiratory diseases and cancers, especially asthma, and Waianae has the highest rate of asthma on Oahu,” nonprofit environmental group Kahea said in a written comment to PVT’s EIS preparation notice. “How will nearby residences, schools, farms and businesses be protected?”

PVT said in its draft report that it mitigates dust and has shown through nine human health risk studies submitted to the state Department of Health over the last 15 years that dust from its operations doesn’t pose a health concern.

“A lot of the testing on the dust was for our own employees,” Joseph said. “We care about our employees.”

PVT employs close to 90 people, mostly West Oahu residents.

Joseph said there’s more dust in other communities from heavy car traffic than neighborhoods near PVT. To reduce dust from the landfill expansion site, PVT intends to install screens and a 750-foot landscaped buffer along the property’s southern edge closest to homes, and a green belt along the site’s western perimeter along Lualualei Naval Road.

The company also said its practices include stopping work when winds exceed 40 mph, watering down waste when deposited, covering unused but open landfill areas with soil cement and landscaping closed landfill cells.

Yet area residents say dust is dangerous and out of hand at PVT.

One woman who spoke at a Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board meeting in July said she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and can see dirt rising up from the landfill every morning near her house.

“You guys are killing us,” she said.

Ed Werner, another PVT neighbor who spoke at the meeting, said he can’t leave windows open in his house.

“That’s how bad it is,” he said. “We need a landfill, but can we have it someplace else?”

Other complaints include speeding trucks, noise, losing farmland and view-plane impacts. Some Nanakuli residents also are promoting an old vision to turn PVT’s expansion site into a regional park.

In 2010 then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann wanted to buy 50 acres of the property for a park. The plan was popular with many area residents, though PVT claimed the site would cost the city $100 million based on its value as a landfill despite paying only $1.8 million for 179 acres in 1991.

The City Council approved placing a “park symbol” on the city’s Waianae Public Infrastructure Map but didn’t carry the park plan much further.

Joseph said the planned new landfill will one day be green space like closed parts of the existing landfill that have been covered with an impervious material followed by concrete rubble, soil and grass.

“It starts out as an open area, and it ends as an open area,” he said.

PVT said its planned expansion won’t obstruct or alter views of culturally important landforms in Lualualei, including Hina’s Cave or Puu Heleakala.

Land elevations at the expansion site range from 40 to 300 feet above median sea level. PVT seeks to raise the level on portions filled with waste up to 255 feet above median sea level.

As for losing farmland, PVT said in its report that the land isn’t good for crops or animal grazing because of rocky soil and no potable water supply.

To use farmland as a landfill, PVT needs a special use permit from the state Land Use Commission and city Planning Commission. A conditional use permit also is needed from the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

All three permits will involve public hearings.

Joseph said PVT hopes to get through permitting by mid-2021. If approved, initial construction would take two years before fill material could be accepted.


The Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board plans to hold a special meeting on the PVT landfill expansion plan.

>> When: 7-10 p.m. Wednesday

>> Where: Nanakuli High & Intermediate School cafeteria

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