Big Isle Council votes for trash sorting station
HILO » Big Island officials are moving ahead with a new trash sorting station, even as they explore other options to deal with East Hawaii's mounting garbage and trash problem.
The Hilo landfill is nearing capacity and is set to close in March.
Two private companies offered last week to handle the waste in very different ways.
One would build a $3 million sorting station, bale the waste and temporarily ship it off to a landfill in Washington at a cost of $4.3 million a year.
Another would build high-tech plants to process the garbage into alternative sources of energy, with no cost estimate yet offered.
Despite the private proposals, the Council on a 7-2 vote earlier this month gave preliminary approval for an additional $1.2 million to build its own East Hawaii Regional Sort Station. Another $6.2 million was allocated earlier.
Officials have known for more than a decade that the unlined landfill would eventually need to be closed. But so far the only alternative plan has been to truck more than 200 tons of garbage each day to the island's only other landfill, in South Kohala. Residents along proposed routes do not like that idea at all.
Hawaii County Council members repeatedly have said they are opposed to trucking the waste, but Mayor Harry Kim's administration has not come up with an alternative.
County officials have been hoping the state Department of Health will allow the landfill to remain open while they find a more permanent solution. In its 2002 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, the county indicated it does not want a new dump in East Hawaii and would rather explore more high-tech options.
"This administration has had five years to sort this out, and we're still in a mess," Kona Councilwoman Virginia Isbell told Kim and Environmental Management Department staff recently. "I can't understand why this county is so anxious to spend so much money. I don't think you're working hard enough not to spend so much money. You're going to bankrupt this county if you're not careful."
Isbell called for the county administration to be creative in looking for solutions. Council Chairman Stacy Higa of Hilo also has reservations about the administration's plan.
"If this moves forward, we're not saying proceed with trucking to Kona," he said. "If trucking happens, we want it to be clear it is the administration's fault."
The county has set Feb. 17 as a deadline for proposals from private companies to handle East Hawaii's garbage. That process likely would not yield a contract until 2007, long after the landfill is expected to reach maximum capacity.
On Friday, Hawaiian Waste Systems offered to bale and ship East Hawaii's trash to a Washington landfill.
Company head Jim Hodge said the company could build a sort station for $3 million within six months.
"It's an interim measure, not the ultimate solution," Hodge said. "You are in the throes of making some historic decisions. This will help take down the heat. It would just make life a lot easier here."
In the second presentation, Bio Energy Hawaii representatives said they would pay to redesign and close the Hilo landfill and build a waste processing facility, a biomass gasifier and waste-to-energy and ethanol production plants.
They would profit from tipping fees and power sales.
Imre Szekelyhidi, a Texas-based consultant working with Bio Energy Hawaii, said he has a plan to maximize the Hilo dump's capacity and could set the entire scheme in motion within a month.
Szekelyhidi, who has worked on similar issues in 11 states, said he will not be able to submit a detailed proposal with costs, however, by next month's deadline.
"We don't have the time," he said. "We have a plan but you have to support it."
The Council could forgo the proposal process by declaring a state of emergency. The county charter allows such an action when public emergencies affect life, health or property.
Isbell indicated the situation might be getting that dire.
"We are in a crisis and don't kid yourself," she said. "It is an emergency."