LIHUE — Mel Rapozo said the council was never informed that Kauai County was fined nearly $140,000 for not taking proper care of four refuse transfer stations.
During a committee meeting Wednesday, Rapozo, chair of the Kauai County Council, said he found out about the fine from the Department of Health when he was looking through the budget, and noticed $200,000 was internally transferred to the Department of Public Works.
“There was an attempt made by the administration to take care of these very serious violations without the council’s knowledge,” he said. “That to me is wrong. Because the council was out of the loop, so was the public.”
On Wednesday, representatives from the Department of Public Works addressed the council to discuss why the Hanalei Transfer Station, Lihue Transfer Station, Kauai Resource Center, Hanapepe Refuse Transfer Station and Kapaa Refuse Transfer Station did not pass the compliance evaluation inspection by Clean Water Branch of DOH.
Lyle Tabata, acting county engineer, said he did not purposefully leave the council out of the loop.
“I apologize for my inadvertent lack of communication to council regarding the notification,” he said. “When we received the violations on May 25, we had 20 days to respond. So we dove right to identify where we were and where we had to go.”
Because Tabata was focused on fixing the problems, it slipped his mind to notify the council, he said.
“It fell on me to notify the proper people, and I accept responsibility for not doing it,” he said.
Violations against the county include discharging storm water that had a large amount of harmful of chemicals, failing to submit annual discharge monitoring reports, failing to conduct staff training and failing to develop and/or implement a Storm Water Pollution Control Plan, or SWPCP, according to the Notice of Violation and Order.
Each of those items are required for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit to run a refuse transfer station.
The NOVO was issued by the DOH, Clean Water Branch for NPDES, on May 23 in regards to a variety of instances stemming from 2014, Tabata said.
When the Department of Public Works submitted water samples of the area near the Hanalei Transfer Station to DOH in September 2014, they found exceedances of copper, zinc, lead and aluminum in some of the samples.
Public Works immediately took action to control waste runoffs by cleaning up the garbage cans and building a ramp at the station, Tabata said.
But exceedances were still found in the water samples in February and in May, when the Clean Water Branch came to inspect the station. That was when they were formerly cited, he said.
The department then hired a consultant to take a look at all of the transfer stations. The consultant came up with a list of things the county could improve on, but Public Works was unable to do them all, Tabata said.
Violations at the Lihue Refuse Transfer Station and Kauai Resource Center include failure to implement pollutant control strategies, failure to conduct personnel training and failure to submit a storm water discharge monitoring report
Violations at the Hanapepe Refuse Transfer Station include xceedances in copper, lead, zinc and iron, failure to review and update the SWPCP and failure to conduct personnel training.
Violations at the Kapaa Refuse Center include exceedances in aluminum, copper zinc and lead, failure to conduct personnel training and failure to submit a storm water discharge monitoring report.
“We kept trying to improve, but bottom line, we didn’t do enough,” he said. “Being fined shows us that even though we tried, we didn’t meet the needs.”
After being notified, Public Works has taken several steps to get all four of the stations back up to snuff.
The annual storm water report for all of the stations was turned in to DOH, employees underwent training, and a storm water prevention plan was sent to every station, Tabata said.
In addition, the department is improving the receiving areas and updating the site plans by installing stilt fences. Because the majority of the heavy metals found in the water come from motor oil, the department is looking to install petroleum-retaining booms to control run-offs, Tabata said.
It will cost between $1.7 million and $2 million to make those changes.
“A complete package of the changes, improvements and updates have been submitted to DOH, and we also submitted the payment,” he said. “They will respond and get back with us.”
Councilman Mason Chock said there needs to be an element of trust between the council and public works.
“I see a lack of trust. We all have to try to get to a point where we can collaborate and problem solve, and to do that, we have to tell the truth,” he said. “I want to move forward, and the only way to solve the problem is to be closer aligned.”
One way to solve it is to reprioritize the county’s concerns, said Councilman Ross Kagawa.
“This isn’t an area where we need to skimp; this is where we splurge and do it right,” he said. “When it comes to bike paths and walk ways, that’s what you push off to the side.”
The council members took time to thank Tabata for taking the blame.
“I applaud Lyle,” Kagawa said. “He reminds me of my football coach. When we won, he praised the team, and when we lost, he said it was his fault. And that’s what Lyle is doing.”
But it’s not all Tabata’s fault, Kagawa said.
“Issues have been going on since the 1980s, and we’ve been pushing it off,” he said.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura added: “Lyle, I don’t think it’s your job to do all of this. It’s your job to make sure it gets done.”
The test now is how the county moves forward, said Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro.
“What are we going to address the situation, and what are we going to do to make sure it won’t happen again — that’s what people will be watching,” he said.
The council has to lead by example, Kagawa added.
“When we tell our residents to recycle more and take care of the environment,” Kagawa said, “and if we don’t do our utmost at the transfer stations, we’re poor leaders.”