City hit with big
fine for dumping
The state demands $542,459
for the Waipahu violation of rules
on solid and hazardous waste
The state will fine the city $542,459 for violating solid- and hazardous-waste rules at its Waipahu incinerator and landfill, it was announced yesterday.
City officials estimate that the final cleanup bill, after hazardous materials are shipped for mainland disposal and an environmental consultant is paid, will approach $500,000, bringing the cost for the Waipahu site to more than $1 million.
The city immediately announced it will appeal the fine.
"We are disappointed that the state Department of Health has imposed this fine based on an unauthorized and irresponsible act of one city employee," said Frank Doyle, city director of environmental services.
An internal city investigation found that Peter Kealoha Jr., city disposal services supervisor, allegedly ordered city employees to crush and bury 214 tons of junked household appliances on the grounds of the city's closed Waipahu incinerator in early 2001.
Also under Kealoha's direction, according to the investigation, city employees amassed a pile of about 6,000 empty propane tanks at the Waipahu site and buried hazardous bricks and ash from defunct incinerator chimneys in a closed ash landfill.
All three illegal dump sites were brought to the state's attention in late February by Carroll Cox, an environmentalist who heads the group Enviro-
Watch. A fourth site is still
under investigation by the state.
Yesterday, Cox called the state's action "bittersweet ... because the taxpayer is going to have to pay it," and called on Mayor Jeremy Harris to "make a simple, genuine apology and follow through to prevent this kind of practice." Cox urged the state to be more aggressive in policing illegal dumping.
Harris and Kealoha, who is now on unpaid administrative leave from the city, could not be reached for comment.
"Our policy is vigorous enforcement of existing pollution control laws, and we act today to follow that policy," said Laurence Lau, state deputy director of Environmental Health Administration, when he announced the fine yesterday.
"We consider this quite serious because the city is a knowledgeable and experienced operator of solid-waste facilities," Lau said. "Also, they know if they have questions, they can call on our staff."
The proposed fine is the largest penalty assessed by the Health Department's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch since 2000 when it fined the University of Hawaii $1.7 million for improper handling of hazardous chemicals and explosives on three campuses. The university negotiated a settlement in which it agreed to pay a cash penalty of $505,000 and spend $1.2 million on projects to reduce pollution.
Health official Lau said about the city fine, "I think in today's budget climate, half a million dollars is serious by anyone's calculation."
Based on the state's review of hazardous-materials testing done by city consultants since the dump sites were discovered, "at three sites out of four in that area, we are confident that there is no immediate public health risk," Lau said.
The fourth site is near the city's closed Waipahu ash landfill, which is on Navy land that was leased to the city. The state will pay for testing there to determine if any hazardous materials are present and has not ruled out an additional fine for the city, Lau said.
Hazardous levels of the heavy metal cadmium were found in samples taken at the closed incinerator and landfill.
Digging up and recycling the crushed appliances, clearing out illegally dumped construction debris, properly disposing of the empty propane tanks and disposal of both hazardous and nonhazardous waste has cost the city about $200,000 so far, Doyle said yesterday.
"We are working with the DOH to complete all aspects of the cleanup and hope they will waive the fine, especially since the city has been helping the state with its own environmental issues," Doyle said. He cited the work the city did this spring to help clear Lake Wilson of the waterweed Salvinia molesta.
City Councilman Nestor Garcia, whose district includes Waipahu, said yesterday that he has not heard from constituents worried about potential contamination in the neighborhood.
"I've been more concerned about the workers," he said.
Of 35 city workers who were voluntarily tested for heavy-metal toxicity, none has shown harmful levels, Doyle said. Another dozen employees tests results have not been returned.
The state attorney general's office is continuing a criminal investigation into the illegal dumping by the state. Lau said yesterday he does not know the status of the investigation.
An internal investigation by the city has been completed and is with the city corporation counsel, Doyle said.
City & County of Honolulu