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Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Kauai wants
state to revive
‘white elephant’

The county asks $100,000
to figure out how to get its
idle, $2.2 million recycling
center up and running

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


LIHUE -- Kauai County, which talked the federal government into putting up a $2.2 million recycling center that has been unused since it was completed, now wants the state of Hawaii to pay $100,000 to figure out what to do with it.

"They're trying to revive the elephant," said Ray Chuan, the Hanalei activist who first made an issue of the new three-building complex located near Lihue Airport.

Officially called the Kauai Resource Exchange and Buy Back Center, it has been padlocked since the U.S. Commerce Department handed it over to Kauai County a year ago. Chuan and now other critics refer to it as "the county's white elephant" and have latched onto it as what they say is the most visible symbol of Mayor Maryanne Kusaka's lack of commitment to recycling.

The center was designed to provide a place for small businesses to refurbish discarded appliances and resell them. Abandoned refrigerators and washing machines have rivaled junk cars as a major eyesore since the last private scrap yard on the island closed in 1995.

There also is space for companies to refurbish a wide variety of other goods that would otherwise end up in the landfill, ranging from furniture to outboard motors. The recycling center is next door to a county transfer station where a mountain of broken material has been stored.

The problem is, the county does not want to operate the facility, but neither does anyone else. County officials have conducted three "bidders conferences" during the past year but have been unable to convince any of those attending that they could the run the recycling facility at a profit.

The county also has been unwilling to spend money to staff the facility. Now, it's asking the Clean Hawaii Center, a state agency, for a three-month, $50,000 grant to hire a coordinator and put together a marketing plan. The grant is renewable once and the county is planning on a six-month, $100,000 effort to try to jump-start the program through marketing studies, training seminars and promotional materials.

According to the grant application, the county would be the initial manager of the facility but the long-term plan is to find a private company to run it. A request for proposals is scheduled to be sent to prospective tenants this week. The county is hoping to be able to open the facility in July or August.

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