Recycling companies worried about future with waste-to-energy project

WAILUKU – The county’s proposed integrated waste conversion project may have the potential to double the amount of trash currently diverted from the Central Maui Landfill, but a couple of longstanding local recycling companies are worried that they will be displaced.

“Maui EKO Systems was established in 1995 to operate the county’s green waste recycling and co-composting facility,” Maui EKO Compost spokeswoman Brittany Smart said in testimony before the County Council Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Monday. “In the 18 years since, it has diverted approximately 1 million tons of organic material from the county’s landfill . . . (and) is arguably Maui County’s most successful landfill-diversion program.”

Maui EKO Compost, which diverts the county’s green waste and turns it into compost, holds a contract with the county to operate at the Central Maui Landfill in Puunene. It employs 19 people.

Pacific Biodiesel, a partner and subcontractor of Maui EKO Compost, also operates at the landfill and has been diverting fats, oils and grease from the county waste stream for 17 years. It employs 18 people on Maui.

“Pacific Biodiesel has been here for 17 years. We’ve enjoyed working with the county and would like to continue to do so. . . . I’m not sure we can with this project,” Pacific Biodiesel President Robert King said of the proposed waste conversion project.

Last year, the county had put out a request for proposals for a project “to increase diversion of economically recyclable materials from the waste streams, reducing the environmental impacts currently associated with landfilling and with importing fossil fuels,” according to the request. The county received 20 proposals, and both Pacific Biodiesel and Maui EKO Compost allied themselves with other bidders, according to county officials.

The county selected Anaergia Service of Carlsbad, Calif., to build a $100 million-plus facility on county land near the Central Maui Landfill. The state-of-the-art waste conversion facility would be able to divert from the landfill more than 80 percent of the 375,000 tons of waste the county produces annually. Currently, only about 43 percent of waste is diverted through various county- and privately funded programs.

When Council Member Stacy Crivello asked whether Maui EKO Compost or Pacific Biodiesel would be displaced or forced to move if Anaergia were to come in and build their facility, county Corporation Counsel Pat Wong advised the committee to discuss the matter in executive session, as negotiations between the county and Anaergia about the details of the project are still ongoing.

The committee recessed and entered into executive session before agreeing to defer the item to the next committee meeting Dec. 16 due to time constraints.

County Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza and Anaergia officials said that they have reached out to the existing local companies by email and by phone, “but no partnership has been forged to date,” Ginoza said.

Pacific Biodiesel Vice President Kelly King acknowledged that Anaergia representatives had contacted her company via phone and email, but nothing concrete has been established.

“Several months ago, we met with Anaergia, and they offered to write up a memorandum of understanding, but we haven’t seen anything in writing yet,” Pacific Biodiesel Vice President Kelly King said. “There’ve been phone calls too, but we don’t feel the phone calls have led to overtures.”

Kelly King said she is unhappy with the way the county handled the procurement process because it never consulted or considered the impact a facility like Anaergia’s would have on established local companies. The Kahului-based biodiesel company started in 1995 and has since kept more than 21 million gallons of fats, oils and grease out of the landfill. Last year, the company was named one of the “Top 25 Most Influential Companies in Hawaii” by Pacific Business News. Pacific Biodiesel has facilities in Honolulu, on Hawaii island, on the Mainland and in Japan.

“These are companies that have done wonderful work for this community, and they’ve given back to the community,” Council Member Elle Cochran said. “I hate to disregard them and all their services to this community after all these years in taking a contract that may displace them.”

Council Member Don Couch agreed that there should be more “face-to-face” discussion between Anaergia and the local companies that would be affected, Maui EKO Compost and Pacific Biodiesel.

“Email doesn’t count; you have to be able to sit down face-to-face and look them in the eye,” Couch said.

Couch asked if the county could facilitate such a discussion, but Wong said such involvement would be “a recipe for disaster” because the county’s contract is with Anaergia alone. If a separate contract between Anaergia and another partner was to fall apart, the county should not be liable.

A number of testifiers, including representatives from Aloha Waste Systems, the Plumbers and Fitters Union, Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development, and the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council spoke in support of the proposal.

“It will enhance recycling, decrease emissions and create renewable energy in the form of renewable fuels, while creating significant environmental and ecological benefits for the County of Maui,” said Christine Sa’u of Aloha Waste Systems, one of the island’s largest waste collection companies. “As a neutral entity, we see no basis for a project like this to be stalled due to political or economic motivations.”

The proposed project would create 150 local construction jobs and between 20 and 40 permanent jobs, county officials said.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at