Land Use Commission again will convene to determine landfill’s fate
The city finally might win its long-running quest to win state approval to extend the life of Oahu’s only municipal landfill, but not if neighbors of the West Oahu facility have anything to do with it.
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The city finally might win its long-running quest to win state
approval to extend the life of Oahu’s only municipal landfill, but not if neighbors of the West Oahu facility have anything to do with it.
The state Land Use Commission on Wednesday is again scheduled to take action on a special use permit application that would allow the Department of Environmental Services to continue operating the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill next to the Kahe power plant.
The fate of the landfill has been a contentious issue that has bounced between the courts, the Honolulu Planning Commission and the LUC for more than a decade.
The Planning Commission voted earlier this year to recommend approval of a permit allowing the city to continue operating the landfill until it meets capacity.
The commission’s recommendation does not set a definitive closure deadline for the current landfill, but requires the city to identify an alternative site by Dec. 31, 2022, “that will be used upon (the landfill) reaching its capacity.”
The stipulation added, “This identification does not require the alternative landfill to be operational on Dec. 31, 2022 but is intended to require that the applicant to commit
to the identification of an alternative landfill site that may replace (the landfill) when it reaches capacity
at a future date.”
The December 2022 deadline, the commission said, is based on the conclusion that a five-year timeline would be sufficient for the city to identify an alternate site before the current Waimanalo Gulch site reaches capacity.
The state Office of Planning, which provides staff research for the LUC, is recommending the permit be approved but is tacking on its own stipulation requiring the city, upon identifying a site, to begin taking steps to acquire the property and obtain the necessary permits “to
assure use of the site as a replacement landfill when (Waimanalo Gulch) reaches its capacity.”
Once the capacity is determined to be seven years or less, the Office of Planning said in its Oct. 1 report, “the applicant shall initiate the detailed engineering studies needed to support the design and construction of the replacement landfill in preparation for the transfer of landfill
operations when (Waimanalo Gulch) reaches capacity.”
The agency said it “acknowledges the difficulty in determining a closure date” given the ongoing
efforts by the city to divert municipal solid waste and ash from the landfill.
Landfill opponents, however, continue to raise strong objections to expansion and extension of the gulch.
The Ko Olina Community Association and state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D, Kalaeloa-Waianae-Makaha), in their Sept. 17 filing to the LUC, said the failure by the Planning Commission to impose a definitive closure deadline flew in the face of what it had been asked to do.
“The failure to impose a closure deadline is contrary to the representations that the City and County of Honolulu made to the community and this commission that the landfill would be closed,” the association said.
The association is proposing that, if an extension is granted, the landfill be shut down completely by March 31, 2027, and that it be closed to all waste except ash and residue from the city’s HPOWER waste-to-energy plant and automobile shredder residue by March 1, 2024. The city would need to file a closure plan by March 31, 2026.
In a separate filing, KOCA also raised objections to the Planning Commission’s decision to reject all of the association’s recommended changes, including a definitive landfill closure deadline, in its final recommendation despite previously indicating verbally that it would do so.
The city, in its response to the association’s objections, said the Planning Commission “discussed but was never prepared” to adopt the group’s proposed recommendations.
As for the lack of a timeline, the city’s response said that “while some commissioners expressed a belief that the record supported the closure condition, no commissioner cited evidence to support the bald assertion.”
The commission’s recommendation does not allow for the landfill to continue indefinitely, but only until it reaches capacity as determined by the state Department of Health, the city said.
The city repeatedly has said that while most of the island’s solid waste is now diverted elsewhere, including HPOWER, a landfill needs
to remain open for disposal of ash and residue from HPOWER, debris from unanticipated natural disasters, and when HPOWER closes for two weeks for scheduled maintenance.
Former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who filed to be an intervenor when the city first applied for the extension when she was the area’s state senator in 2009, also continues to raise objections.
Despite its promise to lose the landfill, “Instead of closure, (the city) continues to seek to operate, and the Planning Commission supported such an open ended continued use until capacity,” said a filing by Richard N. Wurdeman, Hanabusa’s
“Very little has ever been done in the last ten years by the city to develop an alternative site, even though the Land Use Commission in its 2009 order also required that the city identify and develop a replacement site with reasonable diligence.”
The city has contended that when asked to find a new site, the City Council in 2004 determined that the current landfill should continue.