No more Leeward landfills, vows mayor
In front of angry residents demanding the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill be closed, Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced last week he will exclude the entire Leeward Coast from future landfill site studies, bringing hope -- and fears of empty promises.
His announcement, made at a heated town hall meeting in Nanakuli, comes as the city seeks a 24-month extension to keep the landfill open after its permit expires May 1.
If the city is granted the extension next year, Hannemann promised that in 2011, when a mayor-appointed committee starts its study to update a five-year master plan for solid waste, landfill sites won't include the Leeward Coast.
Hannemann said: "Because we will say the Leeward Coast will have to be excluded, whoever's on the committee at that time, they'll have to really search high and low for other places."
City officials acknowledge that it will be a difficult task since, in 2004, the mayor's Blue Ribbon Site Selection Committee selected five landfill sites and four of them -- including Waimanalo Gulch -- were on the Leeward Coast.
"It's possible," said Eric Takamura, director of the city Environmental Services Department. He added it was difficult for the 2004 committee to select sites outside the Leeward side "given the time frame they had."
Many community members said they're skeptical of Hannemann's commitment because they've seen promises broken once a new mayor stepped into office. Hannemann has emphasized that it was former Mayor Jeremy Harris who promised to close Waimanalo Gulch in 2008 and not him.
"The city promised Waimanalo Gulch would be closed in 2008," testified Cynthia Rezentes, a Waianae resident, at a City Council committee meeting yesterday in opposition to landfill's extension. "The City and Council owes it to all the people on the island to push this solid waste issue faster and to fulfill the promises made."
Councilman Todd Apo, a vocal critic of keeping Waimanalo Gulch open, said he's happy that Hannemann is willing to exclude the Leeward Coast from future landfill sites. However, he is concerned with how the promise will be kept.
Apo said: "How do you not get into the same situation we're in today? Is there any way to guarantee it at this time?"
"I don't think Hannemann's promises are binding on future mayors," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua), who also has called for the landfill's closure. "The unfortunate part is that residents there have heard it time and time again. At some point, government should learn to keep its word."
City spokesman Bill Brennan said Hannemann suggested having it written into a City Council bill or resolution that would force future administrations to follow through. That way, if the next administration wants to look into the Leeward Coast for landfill sites, it would take another bill or resolution -- including public input -- to break that commitment.