WAILUKU - The county is removing thousands of tons of scrap metal and getting permits to legalize operations at the Hana landfill in its latest effort to correct long-standing sanitation issues.
The county hopes to avoid fines by addressing the problems and keeping the state Department of Health informed of its efforts, said Director of Environmental Management Cheryl Okuma. The facility needs to finalize state and county land use approvals before it can apply for a new landfill permit from the Department of Health, she said.
In addition, the county has been cited for allowing an estimated 4,000 tons of junked cars and appliances to pile up over the years. It has contracted with SOS Metals for $950,000 to remove the scrap over the next four to six months.
A county end-loader scoops up gravel from a cinder cone in this photo taken in Hana. The gravel is used to cover garbage in the Hana Landfill.
JOHN BLUMER-BUELL photo
"We're cleaning it up," Okuma said.
As part of its efforts, the county also expects to address issues surrounding its gravel mining operation at a nearby cinder cone.
For years, the county has removed cinders for road repair and landfill cover, but the hill is under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the county has no legal agreement for the operation. DLNR District Land Agent Daniel Ornellas said he hoped to bring a lease or land license with the county before the Board of Land and Natural Resources in September.
Ornellas said he planned to inspect the cinder pit with an engineer to determine how much more gravel could be taken without causing environmental damage.
"We've got to take a look at the life of the mining operation, because that hillside is pretty well used," he said.
Okuma said the county is working to get a formal agreement to continue mining the cinder cone, which she said is necessary for landfill operations. She also said she expects the county will have to conduct a cultural assessment and soil stability study of the operation as a requirement of county land use permits for the landfill.
The Maui Planning Commission in July approved a conditional use permit for the landfill operation. A special management area permit is still pending, and a state conditional use permit is pending before the state Land Use Commission.
The permits are needed to redraw the boundary lines of the landfill to incorporate an area where the facility has encroached onto state land and to create a buffer around the area, Okuma said. Improvements at the facility include construction of a retention basin; $100,000 was budgeted last year for planning and design.
But the county needs to resolve the land use issues before it can even apply for an operating permit from the Department of Health. It is operating under an administrative extension, and the operations on state lands aren't covered, officials with the Health Department's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch said.
Branch Division Chief Steven Chang said no notice-of-violation had been issued for the Hana landfill, and the county could avoid fines if it continues to address the issues.
"I think they've done a good job," he said.
For the past several years, the county has had its hands full correcting health and sanitation issues that had been occurring for a decade or longer at landfills on all islands.
In 2006, the county agreed to pay fines of $200,000 for unsanitary conditions and permit violations at the Central Maui and Lanai landfills, and an additional $81,000 for separate Lanai violations.
The county is also facing $62,300 in possible additional fines from the Health Department's Clean Water Branch for water pollution violations at landfills at Hana, Lanai and Molokai.
The county already has taken steps to correct the violations, contracting with Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corp. to remove scrap on Molokai, and budgeting millions for upgrades at the Molokai and Lanai facilities and to bring the Central Maui Landfill into compliance with environmental laws.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo declined to comment on the possible fines, because the case is still pending before the attorney general. But she did say the department was pleased with the county's response to the issues.
"We feel all those landfills have come into compliance," she said.
Once it is able to apply, the county hopes to include upgrades in the Hana Landfill operating permit, Okuma said.
That could include a recycling center, to help reduce the amount of waste entering the facility, she said.
"We know the community wants one out there," she said.
It may also look for a way to accept junked cars and appliances in Hana; with the county clearing out old scrap from the landfill, it can no longer accept junkers for the time being.
"It's going to be up to (residents) how they haul it out," Okuma said.
Hana residents have kept an eye on the landfill situation and continue to have questions about the facility's future, said resident John Blumer-Buell.
He supported the county's move to clear old scrap metal from the dump but said he wanted to know how residents would be able to dispose of old cars and appliances in the future. The scrap heap has also been an unofficial resource for the community, he noted.
"It's the used-parts place in Hana," he said. "People have picked it over."
Blumer-Buell and other residents also remain concerned about the cinder mining operation and its impacts on cultural resources, water quality and drainage in the area.
But overall, DOH officials said they felt optimistic that the county was correcting deep and long-running problems at its landfills in the face of obvious geographical challenges.
"They've made significant improvements," Chang said. "They're doing quite well now."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.