Editor’s note: This commentary was sent as an open letter on May 10. Yesterday, Kauai County Council added $550,000 to Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s initial $100,000 offering for the program.
by Bruce Pleas
Host Community Benefit is a program that provides a mechanism for reimbursing the impacted neighborhood for the siting and operation of a solid waste facility or any facility that may have, or has, a detrimental effect on the health and well being of the community.
I appreciate the initial addition in the 2008/2009 Operating Budget for $100,000 to support the Host Community Benefit program for Kekaha.
This initial amount should go toward the formation of an HCB committee and be the initial startup money for the projects that this committee decides upon.
There needs to be a clear timetable set for the formation of the HCB committee and when decisions will be made by the body. Too many times in government these programs/committees are proposed and it takes too long for anything to come from them. At this point it seems that even with this HCB program in the next fiscal year budget, it would not take effect until 2009 at the earliest and who knows what direction the committee will decide the funds would be used for. I have my own ideas on where any money allocated for the HCB program could go and they are to ensure that the community’s health is being protected and the quality of life in Kekaha is improved. On the issue of forming the HCB committee I hope that a definitive timetable is presented along with the money so that things can begin to move quickly.
As for the amount of money ($100,000) I believe it is inadequate to do much beside some feel-good type projects; it is not enough to address the serious health and quality of life concerns that the residents of Kekaha have been pointing out for the last few decades. I would hope that Mayor Bryan Baptiste and the Kauai County Council approve at least $250,000 for this year which would provide enough money to conduct extensive groundwater, drinking water and biological testing of both animal and human contamination along with beginning some minor community projects or at least one major project during this fiscal year.
Will this be a one-time payment or the beginning of yearly payments from the county to support a HCB program for Kekaha? Let’s hope the county comes out with a clear answer on this. I would suggest that yearly payments of half of 1 percent of the property taxes collected by the county be set aside for the Kekaha HCB program and when a new landfill is proposed that the same amount be set aside for the next community that hosts the landfill. To tie the funds for the HCB to the tipping fees would probably not produce enough revenue for the HCB program to provide a difference in the community and would mean that the funding for the HCB program would stop when the landfill ceased operation.
Presently I believe the Open Space Commission receives the half-of-1-percent rate and nets about $200,000 per year for that commission’s use. Presently the Kekaha Landfill site with the proposed expansions will operate for the next 10 years then with a 30-year closing timeframe the Kekaha community should be guaranteed at least 40 years of monetary support available for the Kekaha HCB program.
At this point I believe the Kekaha community needs to see some tangible results from the HCB program and these results need to show up in Kekaha soon as visual confirmation that the government will live up to its promise made on Aug. 9, 2007. I have presented to the council at the public hearing on the operating budget my wishlist for the HCB program which includes: groundwater and biological testing of the environment animals and humans around and in Kekaha; replacing the existing 10- to 80-year-old drinking water system that is currently sitting in the groundwater (proposed by the 2020 Water Department Plan and has no funding); and providing an alternate system to the present septic tank/leach field sewage system that is sitting in the same groundwater that our drinking water pipes sit in. Not a good scenario for public health and could be the cause of so much cancer in Kekaha among all age groups.
I know the above scenarios take time with procurement, design and permitting so I would propose that a very tangible project that could start within months (after waiting 30-plus years) should be the Kekaha Gardens Park (KGP) project that is presently in the planning process and just sitting in the Parks and Recreation Department. The KGP project has funds, but may not be enough to do exactly what the community desires, and to prove to the Kekaha community that the government is truthful and will live up to its word on the HCB program.
The KGP project should begin immediately and be completely funded to meet the desires and expectations of the Kekaha community that has been waiting over 30 years while hearing countless promises from the government for this park to be completed.
• Bruce Pleas is a resident of Kekaha. He ran for County Council in 2004 and for mayor in 2006.