Big Isle seeks to ease
burden of trash program

Officials debate plans to overcome
a taxing 80-mile dump run

HILO » The Big Island's garbage woes are getting deeper and more expensive by the truckload, as the county considers a plan to truck more than 200 tons of trash 80 miles each day from Hilo to a dump near the Kohala Coast resorts.

The South Hilo Sanitary Landfill is slated to close in March, leaving only one dump in West Hawaii, less than two miles south of the resorts, for the entire island.

County officials are looking at running up to 80 trucks a day to haul East Hawaii trash to that landfill while exploring a new, high-tech method of garbage disposal and finding up to $60 million to pay for it.

"It's an issue that people are talking about. It's really just a mess," said Tammie Mulligan, owner of the Fashion Consignment Studio in Waimea, along the likely route. "It cannot be a long-term thing."

County Councilman Angel Pilago, whose district includes Puuanahulu, said he understands the urgency of the situation but is not satisfied with the way the problem has piled up like the nearly 200-foot-tall Hilo landfill.

"Closing the landfill is not the catastrophe; the catastrophe is that my community is becoming the dump site. This cannot be a long-term solution," he said Wednesday at a special meeting of the Council's Environmental Management Committee. "We're willing to be good neighbors, but I keep getting a feeling that this is being shoved down our throats."

A dump in Kailua-Kona was already closed by the time county officials ruled out building a fourth facility in their 2002 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan. The state Department of Health approved the county's plan, which also emphasized recycling and recommended a new waste reduction facility in East Hawaii.

Among the options were waste-to-energy combustion, thermal gasification or anaerobic digestion technology.

But the county still has not decided which high-tech route to take, where it might be built or how to pay for it, and county officials and waste management experts agree it will take years before construction can even begin.

In the meantime, the county wants to spend $14.5 million to build a sort/reload complex to weed out green waste, metals and recyclables -- up to 45 percent -- before hauling the remainder to Puuanahulu.

According to county figures, approximately 160,000 tons of solid waste were dumped into the county system in 2000.

Private companies hauled about 50 percent to county landfills; much of the remaining half was hauled by individual residents to the island's 21 transfer stations.

"We are committed to minimizing what goes into the landfill," Mayor Harry Kim said at Wednesday's meeting.

But Kim also said the plan to haul trash to Puuanahulu is unacceptable for the long term and urged support for the sort/reload station while a new method of disposal is sought.

Puna Councilman Gary Safarik sees a major flaw in that plan.

"Those two ideas are diametrically opposed," he said, as it will be difficult to attract a private for-profit contractor while simultaneously seeking to reduce the raw materials by nearly half.

Along the highway between Hilo and Waimea, several business owners and employees are angered by the county's slow response.

"It's ridiculous. It's just a waste of money," said Haley Souza, cashier at Pinky's Convenience Store north of Hilo.

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