Lessons learned of trash, power

Students from the North Shore Home Schooling Network saw first-hand yesterday how their daily activities impact energy and garbage on Kaua‘i.

The group of approximately 20 students takes field trips every Friday as a way of supplementing instructor-led courses taught to the home schoolers over the week.

Yesterday’s field trip started at the Kekaha Landfill and concluded at the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative power plant in Port Allen.

“This field trip is an excellent example of integrated science, math, social studies and current events,” said Felicia Cowden, who teaches five seventh-graders in Kilauea. “We place a heavy focus on applied math and science, with much learning-by-doing over workbook-based curriculum.”

Though the group consists of mainly seventh through ninth-grade students, Cowden said the group is inclusive of all ages.

For the first part of the day, the students learned about basic operations at Kekaha Landfill and had the chance to see it up close.

Before the students could check out operations first-hand, Jeffrey Kaohi, district manager of the Kekaha Landfill, gave a brief history.

Kaohi explained that the one landfill was actually two separate types of landfill, the difference being one is lined and the other is not.

Because the second landfill, which was built in 1993 after Hurricane ‘Iniki, is lined on the bottom and the sides, Kaohi told the students the landfill will eventually be sealed up altogether once it reaches capacity.

“Think of the landfill being a burrito,” Kaohi said, as the students giggled.

Kaohi said the “burrito” will be full when the landfill is 85 feet above sea level. Currently, the landfill is approximately 70 feet above sea level.

“We want to make sure we can put as much trash as we can in the landfill and compact it the best we can,” Kaohi said.

Kaohi also explained the process of liquid — called leachate — collection from the landfill.

“A piping system collects all the liquid from the landfill which gets pumped out to a lagoon for evaporation so the liquids don’t contaminate the groundwater,” Kaohi said.

The lagoon can handle up to 4 million gallons of leachate water, Kaohi said.

When asked when the landfill will close operations, Kaohi said it will be at capacity by December 2009 or January of 2010.

“The county is pushing for a lateral expansion to gain five more years of use to buy time to build a new landfill,” Kaohi said.

Kaohi then took the students to the top of the landfill so they could observe daily operations.

The students seemed quite surprised with what they saw.

Instead of piles of rubbish, a giant compactor machine was repeatedly driving over a small portion of garbage in order to compress it over the other layers of fill.

Many of the students were also surprised at how much dirt was in the landfill mixed with rubbish.

Kaohi said that a minimum of 6 inches of dirt is placed over the rubbish daily.

“Do you know why?” Kaohi asked the students.

Through plugged noses, a few of the students guessed “the smell.”

Kaohi said that was one of the reasons, but the main reason was that fly larvae cannot penetrate through the thick layer of dirt to create a pest problem.

Kaohi told the students that 33 percent of the landfill, the largest percentage of the trash total, is paper.

After the students had their fill at the landfill, the next stop was several miles east.

For the next leg of the field trip, the students toured the KIUC power plant in Port Allen.

Before taking the students on a tour Richard Vetter, superintendent of the Instrument and Control Electricians section, gave a brief history of the power plant and explained the types of machines that create power for Kaua‘i.

Vetter said that there were nine diesel engines of various sizes and a boiler creating electricity, but that the diesel engines are used most regularly.

“Our mission every day is to meet the demand you all create,” Brad Rockwell, production manager, said to the students. “It’s our job to keep the supply up with the demand.”

Rockwell showed the students how he compares the daily demand curve with the one from the day before. He said the peak electricity usage usually falls around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and tapers off around 10 p.m.

“Our job is to figure out how to shift the peak usage in order to have a more equal operation,” Rockwell said.

The students then donned hard hats to tour the variety of machines that create the power.

Vetter showed the students the oldest diesel engines operating the steam plant that was built in 1968.

Cowden said field trips like this are also a good way to expose the students to possible work fields on Kaua‘i.

“I put a lot of focus on life skills,” Cowden said. “My goal is ready for life before ready for college.”

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com

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