Debate on Solid Waste

SUBHEAD: Incineration trash talking debate is a waste.
By Michael Levine on 15 April 2009 inThe Garden Island

Image above: Photo from inside a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen, Denmark. From

With the Kekaha landfill approaching capacity and multi-million dollar expansion plans on the horizon, the county’s long-running failure to address its solid waste issues set up a debate Tuesday at Council Chambers, pitting former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura against the Carvalho administration in a rehashing of one of the more contentious issues of last year’s mayoral campaign.

As the Kaua‘i County Council heard testimony from County Engineer Donald Fujimoto and his Department of Public Works regarding capital improvement projects to be included in the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year budget, it was disclosed that nearly $400,000 will soon be spent to conduct what Councilman Jay Furfaro repeatedly described as an “ownership asset study” to determine the potential for a wide range of waste reduction or conversion technologies, including waste-to-energy.

Councilman Tim Bynum said plans to look into waste-to-energy options were “news to me,” and Yukimura complained in testimony that a line item in a previous budget had specified the council’s interest in a materials recovery facility, not waste-to-energy. She said solid waste professionals draw a significant distinction between waste reduction efforts like recycling and other diversionary techniques and conversion efforts like waste-to-energy.

“I’m not convinced one way or the other on waste-to-energy, but we haven’t voted on it,” Bynum said. “We shouldn’t pull the trigger until we pull the trigger. ... We shouldn’t spend money until that decision is made.”

Yukimura called the change in strategy a “distortion” of the council’s will and said the $385,000 was a “misuse of funds” that could have been better spent on buying land for a MRF or otherwise moving forward in that direction.

Gary Heu, administrative assistant to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., defended the yet-to-be-encumbered, but already awarded, request for proposals by arguing the administration was doing its “due diligence” in planning and preparing for the “inevitable outcome” of council approval for one new waste technology or another.

“It’s prudent ... to start making preparations” for the way things are headed, “and that’s all this ever was,” he told the council. He argued that waiting for council approval before starting to plan and then moving in a sequential order would slow the process down, and said many projects receive attention from the administration in the form of planning studies before they reach the council floor.

“Government moves slow enough already,” Heu added in an interview outside the chambers.

The study will encompass a wide range of waste alternatives, including waste-to-energy, curbside recycling and centralized composting, Heu said. Some of those projects are included in the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, a draft of which was released for public comment last week. It is available at

Earlier in the day, the proposed operational budgets for the Departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works were discussed with considerably less animosity.

Parks and Recreation, former home to Carvalho and now run by Lenny Rapozo and a handful of deputies, has a proposed budget of $9.8 million.

Public Works, represented by Fujimoto and a half-dozen division heads, has a proposed budget of $10.1 million.

All that remains on the preliminary departmental review schedule is the Finance Department, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Finance saw its proposed budget drop by nearly 50 percent from its current year spending, plummeting from $24.8 million to $12.6 million.

But the drop is largely due to an adjustment to the county’s accounting practices which transferred an item identified as “other post-employment benefits” that had previously resided in the Finance Department’s balance sheet to other county departments and agencies based on the benefit costs of employees of those entities, pushing up the price tag for every other department while driving the Finance Department’s budget down.

The budget review process comes on the heels of Carvalho’s $153.9 million budget proposal for operational expenditures, released in mid-March.

The real property tax revenues are expected to be certified May 2, Budget and Finance Committee Chair Daryl Kaneshiro said.

The state Legislature reportedly advanced measures Tuesday that would, among other changes, divert tourist revenue in the form of transient accommodations taxes from county coffers to the state.

“We’ve been following that pretty closely. ... That’s why we’ve been very conservative on this budget,” Kaneshiro said in a phone interview. “If the TAT is eventually taken away, we’ll find ourselves in big trouble. That amount is already in our current budget.”

The county had projected it would receive $11.8 million in TAT revenue. If the state does raid that revenue source, it could permit counties to add an additional 1 percent sales tax to help cover the gap.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Kaneshiro, who has flown to the Capitol in Honolulu to testify against the proposal. “If it does (happen), then we may even have to amend the whole budget at that point. We just have to wait and see what the Legislature does.”

On or around May 8, the Mayor’s Office will communicate a modified supplemental budget to the council, which is scheduled to begin preliminary decision-making May 11-12. After deliberation, the council will jockey and negotiate with the administration until a final budget ordinance is passed. The 2009-2010 fiscal year begins July 1. To read the budget in its entirety, visit

[Editor's Note: Here's a copy of the Hawaii County Zero Waste Plan. Hawaii Ze...doc (1087.1 KB). Below is a letter to TGI by JoAnne Yukimura on 19 April 2009]

Let your Voices be Heard

Please permit me to correct an inaccuracy in the article “Council debates solid waste strategy” (The Garden Island, April 14). One of the controversies covered in the article centered around the Administration’s use of a past budget line item to issue a Request for Proposal for a Waste to Energy study that would cost $385,000.

That line item was not labeled for a Materials Recovery Facility; it was labeled for “Waste Reduction Consultants.”

Administrative Assistant Gary Heu has confirmed that the proposed $385,000 study is WTE-related. He said the study came out of the Administration’s desire to “do our due diligence” in studying WTE because WTE was one of the alternatives mentioned in the draft solid waste plan.

This would have been fine if the Administration had specifically proposed, and the Council had approved, monies for that use. To my knowledge, this did not happen.

That is why Councilmember Bynum cannot remember voting to spend the money on WTE. When I voted to include these monies for Waste Reduction Consultants, I envisioned consultants to help us design a MRF or develop our curbside recycling program.

Ever since the County Council passed a resolution in 2003 requesting the Administration to update the County’s 1994 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, it has been the Council’s stand that WTE should be one of the strategies considered, but the county should not spend money on a WTE strategy until the county’s solid waste plan was approved, and only if WTE was a priority of the plan.

We even restricted another budget line item labeled, “Solid Waste Programs” by prohibiting those monies from being used for WTE until we had an approved Solid Waste Plan in place. We wanted to avoid what recently happened to the Big Island where the county spent $2 million going down the “WTE track” only to find that WTE was not feasible for them.

We, the County Council, expected that through the county’s Solid Waste Plan process, the county, with its citizens, would evaluate the various solid waste strategies based on feasibility and cost-effectiveness and make the policy decisions as to which strategies the county would pursue to manage our solid waste.

The horror of the present situation is that the Administration has taken almost six years to do the Solid Waste Plan (still not done), and time and garbage keep marching on. Without a good solid waste plan, timely completed, the county is faced with all kinds of problems and additional costs to the taxpayer (same thing with landfill siting).

One of the problems is what to do in the meantime.

Yes, we have been trying to implement strategies even though we haven’t made a decision about what strategies to implement. This is impossible and costly — all because we don’t have a plan and we don’t know where we are going.

There are a lot of things that could be studied as part of due diligence, including a market study for recyclables, a design study for curbside recycling, a fee study for a Pay As You Throw system (which is one of the keys to making curbside recycling work), the siting and design of a MRF, all for which there is a much greater consensus in the community than for WTE.

The problem is that the Administration has made its own decision to pursue WTE without getting proper council concurrence and without having a community-wide discussion on the policy choices facing us.

Thankfully, the $385,000 has not been encumbered and can be used instead for what the Council deems the highest solid waste priorities in the upcoming budget.

If you want the county to adopt and budget for “Zero Waste” or “Maximum Reduce, Re-use and Recycle” as the key solid waste strategy for the county, please let your voices be heard at the public hearing on the budget on at 5 p.m., May 6, in the Council Chambers.

This is not about blame or campaigns. This is about accountability — and providing a sustainable future for our island.

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