The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that it has reached a $5.1 million agreement with Maui County over alleged air pollution violations at the landfill in Puunene.
The agreement calls for the construction of a $4.5 million gas collection and control system, which has been completed, a $380,000 civil penalty and $250,000 to build a wind farm to help supply some of the landfill's power needs.
In 2007, the EPA cited the county for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act for failing to design, construct and operate a gas collection and control system, apply for a state Department of Health permit and prepare emergency measures.
Garbage trucks dump their loads Wednesday afternoon at the Central Maui Landfill Refuse and Recycling Center. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Maui County have reached a $5.1 million agreement over alleged air pollution violations at the landfill in Puunene. The agreement calls for the construction of a $4.5 million gas collection and control system, which has been completed, a $380,000 civil penalty and $250,000 to build a wind farm to help supply some of the landfill’s power needs.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Federal law requires large landfills to install and operate systems to collect gases generated by decomposing refuse, such as air toxics, organic compounds and methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the EPA news release about the agreement said. Effective gas controls at the landfill reduce the release of the gases, preventing them from escaping into the atmosphere.
The EPA citation came about after an inspection revealed that the landfill was over its trash capacity. In 2008, the county moved ahead with its $4.5 million gas collection and control system, said county Environmental Management Department Director Kyle Ginoza on Wednesday.
He said that the project already was on the books and should have been completed before the inspection but was delayed because of a lack of bidders at the time.
The EPA stood firm, though, and has ordered the county to pay the $380,000 civil penalty.
The EPA's 61-page consent decree for the settlement also showed that the Maui Fire Department has developed a plan to battle a blaze at the landfill.
Both Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Southwest regional administrator, and Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa called the settlement a "win-win."
"Today's settlement is good news for the families living in Kahului," Blumenfeld said in a news release. "Achieving compliance with the Clean Air Act and reducing emissions at a landfill and the power plant, while supporting renewable energy, is a win-win."
Arakawa said he and his team have used the situation, in part, as fuel for taxpayer benefits, such as expanding investments in clean energy initiatives dedicated to powering public buildings and facilities. This includes solar panels and flagpole-sized wind turbines at county facilities.
The wind farm idea came about from the settlement, both sides said. It was the county's creative way to satisfy a requirement to resolve alleged environmental damage.
"This agreement with the EPA is a win-win solution for Maui County," Arakawa said. "As an additional benefit, the electricity produced by the windmills is anticipated to supply a significant percentage of the electrical requirements of the landfill."
Thirty-eight percent of the landfill's electrical needs, such as for offices and outdoor lights, will be provided by the windmills, Ginoza said. The wind farm is estimated to cost $250,000, to produce up to 55,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually and be ready by the end of 2013, he said.
The landfill's wind turbines are not the almost-200-foot-tall ones seen along the pali or going up in Ulupalakua, Arakawa and county spokesman Rod Antone said. They will be similar to those found outside Maui Electric Co. headquarters and at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
The landfill's wind farm also should be hardly visible to the public, county officials said.
Arakawa's clean energy plans go much further.
The mayor said he's still pursuing plans to install an electricity-producing trash incinerator at the landfill and while excess methane is now burned off, Arakawa said he wants to see a methane-powered generator.
The mayor added he'd like to see Maui County seriously pursue the construction of a man-made, gravity-controlled, hydroelectric plant in coordination with the planned rebuilding of the Waikamoi Flume.
As for the landfill settlement, the initial citation was never litigated, in part, because of county cooperation, noted Hawaii EPA public affairs specialist Dean Higuchi. And the issue should be put to rest in U.S. District Court after a 30-day public comment period and court approval.
"It worked out well for everyone," Higuchi said "It was a nice way to get a positive project out of this, plus do something for the environment and help the community."
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.