Landfill closure postponed 18 months
Delay comes with conditions
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The city's Waimanalo Gulch Landfill received a reprieve from the state Land Use Commission yesterday to stay open for 18 more months.
But the commission ordered the city to provide updates on alternative methods of trash disposal, and several members urged during a two-day hearing that the city not come back for a fourth permit extension.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he hopes to use the updates to sell his argument that the landfill needs expansion beyond the new closure deadline in 2009.
"No one who has the facts can fully say we can shut down a landfill in 18 months. There's always going to be a need for a landfill," he said.
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The state Land Use Commission allowed the city yesterday to keep the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill open for 18 more months but also ordered regular updates on efforts to find other ways to dispose of trash.
The landfill, mauka of Ko Olina in Leeward Oahu, was set to close May 1, but city officials asked for a permit extension until 2010, citing cost and a lack of time to find another site.
The commission voted 6-2 to approve only an 18-month extension until Nov. 1, 2009, requiring the city to give an update every six months.
Commissioners want assurances from city officials that a similar vote will not occur once the extended deadline nears.
"It's unfortunate for the commission to be in this position," said commission Chairwoman Lisa Judge. "What can we do to not find ourselves back here in the same situation in 2009?"
But Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he hopes to use the semiannual updates to sell his argument that the landfill does need to remain open beyond the now-extended closure deadline.
"I would like to use this time to educate them," Hannemann said. "No one who has the facts can fully say we can shut down a landfill in 18 months. There's always going to be a need for a landfill."
State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who represents the district and opposes extending the landfill, said she was satisfied with the vote and interpreted it differently.
"When you listen to the commissioners and how their votes were, they are not going to tolerate another extension," Hanabusa said. "It's not going to be a rubber stamp."
Hanabusa challenged the city's request, citing health issues and promises made by previous administrations to close the landfill.
Commissioners Normand Lezy and Kyle Chock voted against the extension. Lezy said he voted no because of the city's desire to extend the landfill's life another 15 years.
"If we proceed as proposed, we will allow improper status quo to remain," he said. "I believe that is simply inappropriate, given the prior representations that were made."
Hannemann said he is confident he will be able to convince the commissioners that a landfill is necessary. This is the third time the city has asked for an extension since the landfill opened.
"If I had a chance, I would've asked them, 'Pray tell me, do you folks live in Nanakuli?'" Hannemann said. "And please tell me what community you want to put it in. I would've thrown the onus right back on them."
Commissioner Reuben Wong said although the city is not "demonstrating good-faith efforts," the commission should not allow waste to pile up on the streets by closing the landfill. He characterized the extension as a "last chance" for the administration.
"I think to totally deny is a Draconian action that places the city government in a very precarious position," Wong said. "I believe that this motion with the reporting requirements makes it very clear that these issues are at the doorsteps of the City Council and the administration."
The mayor said yesterday that the commission set no condition in its vote about not coming back for another extension, which leaves the option available for the city.
Hannemann has said if the landfill were to close, the only other viable site would be elsewhere in Nanakuli, which is closer to homes and also in Hanabusa's district.
State Rep. Karen Awana, who represents the Nanakuli area, said Waianae Coast residents do not want a landfill closer to homes.
"They'd rather have it in the existing area at Waimanalo Gulch," she said.