Landfill manager to pay $1.5M
Waste Management, the company in charge of managing the city's Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a dispute with the state Department of Health over numerous violations at the landfill.
The city administration and Waste Management announced the settlement yesterday afternoon, saying nearly all of the 18 alleged violations cited in January 2006 have been corrected. While the settlement frees Waste Management from admitting wrongdoing, some critics say the substantial payment amount validates long-standing complaints about the Leeward Oahu landfill's operations.
"That's the whole problem with Waste Management, they'll never admit that they did anything wrong," said state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who represents Nanakuli and Makua and wants the landfill shut down after its permit expires in May 2008.
"It's almost absurd what they're able to get away with and ... this only continues to exacerbate the situation," Hanabusa, a Democrat, said.
Of the settlement, $520,000 will go to the Health Department's Environmental Response Revolving Fund that finances oil spill cleanups and hazardous substance releases. The rest will go toward additional environmental initiatives, including $342,500 for a community drop-off center for solid waste and recyclables and $637,500 for projects in the Leeward area.
"It is critical that everyone is aware that no taxpayer monies will be used to pay for this settlement," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann. "I appreciate the job (Waste Management's) team has done to address the Department of Health compliance issues and with our encouragement, proactively reach out to communities near the site."
The Health Department originally imposed nearly $2.8 million in fines and later dropped it to $2.4 million. Laurence Lau, state deputy director for environmental health, said he was pleased with the settlement after a long and expensive negotiation process and that Waste Management had substantially improved its operations since the fines were issued.
Waste Management has yet to correct one of its major problems: filling the landfill with ash above its permitted heights. Russell Nanod, spokesman for Waste Management, said it is seeking a permit to raise the height of ash allowed in certain areas.
Its other violations included failing to cover the surface with soil every day, allowing excessive liquid that threatens the stability of the landfill to collect at the bottom, and not properly monitoring methane gas release.
Nearby Leeward Coast residents have long complained about the landfill, saying its lingering smells drifted into their neighborhoods. Waste Management cited several improvements, including reducing odor by spraying odor neutralizers and a gas collection system.
Waimanalo Gulch, Oahu's only municipal dump, has been the center of a contentious debate. The city is in the middle of a contested case in front of the city Planning Commission to get its landfill permit extended for two years.
"It's great they've reached a settlement, but people cannot use it to say it's OK to continue operations there," said City Councilman Todd Apo.