Mayor touts waste plan
A costly proposal to build a Big Island incinerator still gives county officials pause
HILO » Big Island Mayor Harry Kim is making a last-ditch effort to get approval for a proposed $125 million waste-to-energy project as a solution to a municipal trash problem that has plagued the county for 15 years.
Hawaii County Council members, eyeing the huge price tag and public opposition in an election year, have already lined up 6-3 against the proposal.
In an April 21 letter, Kim "strongly urged" the Council's Finance Committee to support an incinerator and electrical power generator to be built by Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. Committee members responded with six votes against him.
Now Kim is circulating a full-color brochure hoping for a change of heart from the public and the Council at its May 7 meeting.
Meanwhile, a 2012 deadline is approaching when it will be impossible to add any more trash to a growing mountain of waste at the Hilo landfill.
East Hawaii trash might then be trucked to the West Hawaii landfill, but West Hawaii residents have repeatedly said they do not want it.
Bobbie Jean Leithead-Todd, head of the county Department of Environmental Management, said the county began wrestling with this problem when she was a county attorney in 1993. Attempts at solutions in 1996, 2000 and 2004 failed.
The county paid $1.2 million to consultants to find an answer. Requests for proposals went to 120 companies. Only 12 companies answered, and in the end only one, Wheelabrator, met all the county's requirements.
Finance Chairman Dominic Yagong does not like that there is a sole bidder on the project. He likes even less the fact that the estimated price jumped to $125 million from $40 million.
"The price tag is, in my estimation, way too high," he said.
Wheelabrator proposes to recycle 75 tons of trash per day and burn the remaining 230 tons per day at temperatures around 1,500 degrees. The excess heat would be used to produce enough electricity to power 5,000 homes.
After 25 years the construction cost would be paid off, but electricity sales would continue to produce revenue for the county for the remainder of the facility's 35-year life, Kim says.
Metal that goes through the incinerator would be recycled. About 10 percent of the volume of trash would remains as wet, cementlike ash.
Yagong says that has to go into a landfill, so the county should build a new landfill first and think about a possible incinerator later.
Leithead-Todd says no one knows what a landfill would cost. Federal law requires liquids in a landfill to be captured by a liner under the trash and then treated. That is no problem at the West Hawaii landfill, which gets about 15 inches of rain a year. It could be a nightmare at a new Hilo landfill with 125 inches a year.
A new Hilo landfill would violate the county's Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan.
Landfills are also bad because they generate methane gas, Kim says. Various sources say methane has about 25 times the power of carbon dioxide in adding to global warming.
When the public testified at a series of Council hearings on Wheelabrator, many people said they wanted more recycling. But in 2004 the Council turned down a sorting station that would have increased recycling.