Biodiesel company closes landfill plant

Pacific Biodiesel has eliminated two employee positions and closed its biodiesel production plant at the Central Maui Landfill in Puunene, according to an announcement Friday from the pioneering Maui alternative fuel company.

The closure stemmed from a December notice from the county Department of Environmental Management that for Pacific Biodiesel to continue its operations at the landfill it would need to obtain multiple permits and extensive upgrades, according to Robert King, president and founder of the company.

“With just over two years left on our contract, we couldn’t justify the costly site improvements that were required to meet the county’s demands,” he said.

Company Vice President Kelly King said Friday that the Maui production plant had three positions, but those have been reduced to one full-time position.

Kyle Ginoza, director of the Department of Environmental Management, said in an email Friday evening that the compliance issues began in 2009 when Pacific Biodiesel applied for a building permit for a new tank structure.

In reviewing the permit, the Fire Department notified Pacific Biodiesel of “noncompliance with applicable fire codes and required them to modify their existing and proposed structures to become compliant,” he said.

In June, a fire broke out at EKO Compost at the landfill, which led to the facility’s closure for two days, Ginoza said. Firefighters responding to the incident inquired with his staff about Pacific Biodiesel’s compliance.

Ginoza said that he later learned, after consulting with the Fire Department and the county Development Services Administration, that Pacific Biodiesel continued to have compliance issues.

In early November, Ginoza said he met with county contractor EKO and handed company officials a letter alerting them of the potential noncompliance issues involving Pacific Biodiesel.

Pacific Biodiesel worked on getting compliant in December and January but in February decided to end the process, he said.

“Pacific Biodiesel decided that they would not spend the money to become compliant and decided to leave our landfill property,” Ginoza said.

Last month, Pacific Biodiesel notified the county that it had moved off the landfill site, he said.

“The Department of Environmental Management will not operate in a manner that is contrary to the fire and building codes,” Ginoza said. “The Pacific Biodiesel structures were not built to code and, as a consequence, presented a potential hazard and liability that had to be addressed.

“Pacific Biodiesel chose to raze the structures rather than become compliant.”

In its news release announcing the plant closure, Pacific Biodiesel said it will continue to collect used cooking oil and trap grease waste. Other statewide operations will not be affected. But instead of pre-processing waste oils in its Puunene facility, the company will ship the material collected on Maui directly to its biodiesel refinery in Hilo, according to the announcement.

The Puunene facility, built in 1996, was the nation’s longest continually operating commercial biodiesel processing facility, according to the company. The Maui operation won awards from the Solid Waste Association of America, the National Recycling Coalition and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

“Pacific Biodiesel will continue its full range of pumping and collection services on Maui and Lanai as well as all its collection and processing operations on Oahu and Hawaii Island,” the company’s announcement said. “Grease trap waste will continue to be processed on Oahu and Hawaii Island.”

The company also will continue to distribute premium distilled biodiesel across the state.

Pacific Biodiesel estimated that it has diverted more than 22 million gallons of waste from the community landfill and greatly reduced the frequency of wastewater spills caused by grease clogs in sewer lines.

“Needless to say, it was difficult to shut down the plant after all these years, but we found ourselves with little recourse given the extent of the requirements to continue operations,” Robert King said. “We are committed to our community-based model and hope to return to Maui with our industry-leading technology in the future.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at Lee Imada can be reached at