Mayor defends problem-plagued landfill
Mayor Mufi Hannemann defended operations at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, acknowledging the problems but emphasizing that things have improved since his administration took office.
"It's far from being a perfect organization. It's far from operating (at) 100 percent efficiency, but, by the same token, it's a lot better than where we were," Hannemann said. "I wish I could take a magic wand and basically make all those problems disappear, but it's just not going to happen that way, so I just think we need to be patient."
The mayor's comments were the first since it was revealed last week that the scale that weighs incoming trash was broken, leading to concerns that the city might be losing thousands of dollars in revenue. The city charges trash haulers $92 per ton for garbage dumped at the landfill.
The problem with the scale is the latest in a string of problems plaguing the landfill, problems that include allegations of bribery, a $2.8 million state Department of Health fine and gas-emissions violations cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But the mayor said that the current leadership at Waste Management Inc., the city-contracted operator of the landfill, has been responsive to concerns raised by the city.
"I really believe despite some of the problems that they're having that Waste Management has been much more accountable," the mayor said. "When we bring something to their attention, they act on it."
Hannemann said when he was "insistent" that a new scale be brought in, Waste Management responded.
But City Council members who have been critical of the landfill operations said they're not so sure things are better.
"Being able to judge, have things improved from an overall management standpoint? I was starting to think so, but obviously these newest problems really make you wonder," said Councilman Todd Apo, whose district includes the landfill.
Apo said, for example, that even though Waste Management came in two years ago with a new management team to improve operations, bribery allegations and scale problems happened on its watch.
"You can't brush it aside anymore," Apo said.
Councilman Charles Djou, who is pushing for a new operator, said he believes that managers at Waimanalo Gulch have been trying to turn things around, but while they were assuring City Council members that everything was fine, the bribery investigation and the scale problems came up.
"For me, they are losing credibility. They are losing credibility with me and the majority of my (Council) colleagues," Djou said. "There's no such thing as an acceptable level of corruption and there's no reason why the public has to put up with bad management. I think operations can be dramatically improved. I just don't take this whole situation perhaps as cavalierly as the mayor does."