A better kaua‘i – Candidates, prioritize landfill issue

A long-standing failure of our county government has been to bring about a meaningful solution for the island’s solid waste disposal. At present the county is hemorrhaging over $10 million per year in costs in support of “Mount Kekaha,” a landfill pile now over 80 feet high of unsegregated garbage and the collection system it uses. A lateral expansion in the present location may not be feasible and piling additional waste on the fill is increasingly inefficient.

Each recent election year our County Council candidates ballyhoo in their campaigns their intentions to work on the problem and each year following the election those elected go back into their shell and if they act at all it is to commission another study of the situation which they promptly shelve after asserting that the problem is complex and needs additional consideration.

The critical need for some constructive answers is increasingly urgent. The people of our county generate on average, per person, 7 pounds of garbage daily or an aggregate or over 250 tons for the county. Our existing facility is essentially saturated and hauling waste materials to Mainland destinations is clearly not the right choice.

Last year the county recognized that it could save some costs by contracting to shred at Kekaha some of the accumulated combustible refuse. One local firm seeing the potential ongoing market obtained about $800,000 of equipment and successfully underbid others by about $200,000 for the work. After this work was successfully completed on three occasions the county solicited bids for supplemental shredding work. For almost a year now none of the work has been performed because of dubious claims by the county of non-compliance of the bids received with the arcane and conflicting county procurement procedures. So a much needed aid to the disposition of greenwaste deposits to the landfill is not occurring.

Nobody in the county is more concerned about the growing solid waste disposal problem than Jose Bulatao. Mr. Bulatao is a life-long resident of Kekaha, a former teacher and professor, and advisor to a Kekaha community organization, E Ola Mau Na Leo Kekaha. He is now serving on a 15-person county commission to consider alternative landfill sites. He is deeply committed to being pro-active in making substantial progress in addressing the key issues and has a myriad of concerns about the safety and feasibility of the current condition and hopes that there will be a political will to act by county officials, KIUC management and other interested parties for a comprehensive program to process county waste that can also serve our alternative energy needs.

A promising prospect is being organized by Steve Hall, an Arizona businessman experienced in recycling waste. He is currently operating a green energy power plant in Arizona and is planning a series of additional facilities. He believes that Kaua‘i would provide an outstanding location for an environmentally friendly facility that would process combustible waste — plastics and greenwaste — into finger-sized pellets that could be burned to create electric power. Also included would be a liquid fuels process derived from turning most plastics back into crude oil and then into marketable fuels and asphalt. This operation would simultaneously eliminate about 85 percent of the waste being generated and provide a low cost source for electric power for the island. Mr. Hall heads an investment group that he states would be willing to commit up to $100 million to build and operate facilities that would generate 22.5 megawatts of power if appropriate terms could be agreed with county officials and arrangements could be made with KIUC to purchase the power generated. With power costs for consumers now at the $.45 per kilowatt hour level and the Hall facility able to sell power at the $.16 per kilowatt hour or perhaps a little less, KIUC’s willingness to cooperate should be imperative. In summary Mr. Hall has a viable program that would solve the bulk of Kaua‘i’s refuse disposal needs, it would provide a green energy source that would provide nearly half of Kaua‘i’s energy requirements and allow lower energy costs for Kaua‘i consumers, and it would create up to 100 employment opportunities for productive jobs.

Mr. Hall’s concept may not be the only option that the county should consider but it is vital that county officials must end the vacillating postponing game that has been going on and face the reality that early and comprehensive action is required to serve the public interest. It is an election year and voters should make it their point to familiarize themselves with the compelling need that the county act to reach solutions to the critical problems posed by the solid waste disposal morass and the urgency to implement cost saving alternate energy for our island. Citizens should thoughtfully review candidates positions on these issues. Our well-being depends on our County Council and mayor having the political will to take whatever steps may be necessary to meet our energy and waste disposal needs.

• Walter Lewis is a resident of Princeville and writes a bi-weekly column for The Garden Island.

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