LIHU‘E — The private consultants tasked with figuring out how to fit more trash in and around Kekaha Landfill are saying the state Department of Health came up with additional concerns late in the game, prompting Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. to propose a vertical expansion and postpone a lateral one for the island’s only landfill.
AECOM Senior Engineer Frank Cioffi told the Kaua‘i County Council Wednesday that the DOH staff are knowledgeable and fair.
“But we may disagree on what’s required,” he said. “Once you get to that point, then you have to decide what’s the best thing to do, what’s the best thing for Kaua‘i. Do we spend our time arguing with them, or appealing their request, or do we try to meet their recommendations?”
On March 15, Carvalho delivered to the council his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which starts July 1. The plans to fill Cell 2 — a narrow strip between the unlined Phase I and the lined Phase II — were put on the back burner, and an increase of the landfill’s height to 120 feet from 85 feet was proposed.
Cell 2, estimated at $9.5 million (prior to DOH’s concerns), is still in the administration’s plans. It just won’t happen for another six years. A year from now, Cell 1 will reach capacity, and five years later, the $300,000 vertical expansion is supposed to reach its height-limit.
When that happens, in 2019, Cell 2 would be ready to start receiving trash. But the $8 million that were in the county’s coffers to partially fund Cell 2 will be gone — the administration has used the money to fund other projects in the upcoming fiscal year.
Cioffi said AECOM was on track to obtain permits to allow Cell 2 to begin operations April 2014. But the concerns brought up almost a year into planning stalled the project, partly because the DOH, a “heavily understaffed department,” was not able to keep up with expediting the permitting process after bringing concerns to the table.
County Engineer Larry Dill said that in an effort to expedite the permits for Cell 2, the administration offered to fund a position at the state agency, but the DOH responded that the only possible way to do this, would be by levying a fine on the County of Kaua‘i, and the administration did not agree with it.
The permitting process for Cell 2 kicked in Nov. 8, 2011, with AECOM submitting a preliminary engineering report to DOH. Cioffi said that almost a year later, and after several steps along the way, on Oct. 15, the DOH expressed concerns about the project.
Then on Oct. 31, the DOH mentioned for the first time “concerns about structural integrity of Phase I underlying Cell 2,” said Cioffi, adding that AECOM responded to those quickly.
On Nov. 7, AECOM and the administration met with DOH. Despite DOH’s significant concerns, they didn’t say the concerns were “show stoppers,” Cioffi said.
“We still thought they were on track to get this done in time,” said Cioffi, adding he was told by DOH it was possible they could complete the application by December, move on with other requirements and get Cell 2 ready before Cell 1 fills up.
More back and forth communication ensued, and on Feb. 26, when AECOM received additional comments from DOH, it became apparent Cell 2 would not be complete in time, Cioffi said.
The council’s Finance Committee unanimously approved Wednesday a bill to fund the $300,000 vertical expansion. The bill now goes to the full council for final approval.
Dill said there is enough time for permits and a contract to be executed to allow the vertical expansion to start a year from now.
Meanwhile, AECOM is trying to address DOH’s concerns related to Cell 2. Cioffi said overlapping an old landfill is “uncharted territory” in Hawai‘i, as it has never been done here. But the engineering solutions, along with contingency, monitoring and management plans submitted by AECOM to DOH appear to “likely” be accepted by state officials, according to Cioffi.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.