Public relations campaign, not solid waste solutions

Judging by the headline in the May 7 edition of The Garden Island, “Budgets seek housing, solid waste funds” our county is again, as it has sort of periodically, gone into a public relations campaign. Along with a soon-to-be announced commission that has no member with any knowledge of the solid waste business or technology, which will put out a plan, supplemented by the product of a multi-hundred-thousand-dollar contract with Consultant R.W. Beck that will once again propose the “Magic Bullet” that will solve all our solid waste problems, PR appears a better route to the county than solutions.

What ensues will be no different from what happened after the last “Master Plan” of two or three years ago. The Kekaha Landfill would get another five-year extension from the State Department of Health with which our county has always maintained a good relationship, just as O‘ahu County has with the DOH that has extended the life of the Waianae Landfill over and over again over the years, despite the protests of neighbors of the landfill. Here on Kaua‘i the process is similar, except that we seem to have a more understanding neighborhood next to our Kekaha Landfill. But not so with the folks in Hanama‘ulu who, upon learning that the county was contemplating putting the next landfill right next door to them, went to, or threatened to go to, the EPA to challenge such a move, under the Environmental Justice Doctrine. The EJD had been promulgated by President Clinton at a time when dirty chemical industries were escaping from the Midwest and setting up shops in rural and poor areas in the Deep South.

So the move of the Landfill from Kekaha to Hanama‘ulu did not happen; and Kaua‘i County kept getting five-year extensions to the Kekaha Landfill by maintaining good relations with the state DOH through its consultant Earth Tech.

The Garden Island report of May 7 included the suggestion from Councilman Jay Furfaro that the “tipping fee” (which is paid to the county by commercial sources of solid waste to have the stuff hauled away to Kekaha) be raised from $58 per ton to $80. This would raise the revenue (the only revenue in the Solid Waste operation) from $2,476,500 to $3,416,000.

Does this solve the financial problem of the Solid Waste program? Certainly not, not when the total cost of the Solid Waste Program for Fiscal Year 2007 was $10,893,400. So, where does the difference of $7,477,400 come from?

To answer that, one has to understand the creative way Kaua‘i County produces its annual budget. There are four or five so-called Enterprise Funds in our budget. These are funds that receive revenues directly from the users of their service. As far as I have studied the issue, only the Waste Water Department, one of the Enterprise Funds, balances its books. All the others make up the deficit by having money transferred, as needed, from the “Unappropriated Surplus” and/or the “General Fund.” In Fiscal Year 2002, for example, the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund received from the “Unappropriated Surplus Fund” $604,000, and $4,189,276 from the General Fund. With this calculation one finds that the FY 07 Solid Waste Enterprise Fund borrowed 77 percent of its total expenditure of $10,893,438 from the “Slush Funds.”

The TGI article seems to suggest that the County is worried about the millions of “Close-out” cost when the Kekaha Landfill finally runs out of space.

Not so … because the county has been building a reserve fund within its Solid Waste budget for that eventuality, with money transferred from the Slush Funds, of course.

• Ray Chuan is a resident of Hanalei and an occasional contributor to the Forum page.


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