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Filling of positions expected to reduce landfill early closures

WAILUKU – Early and full landfill closures countywide that are expected to reach 275 by June 30 are slated to decrease by more than 75 percent in the coming fiscal year beginning July 1, officials from the county Department of Environmental Management said Wednesday.

The number of delayed or missed trash pickups, a subject of complaints by customers, will likely remain about the same as the past and current fiscal years, department officials told the County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday. The committee was reviewing the department’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The department has filled positions at the Hana, Molokai and Lanai landfills, where most of the closures have and are taking place, and this should reduce the next fiscal year closures to 55, said department Deputy Director Michael Miyamoto.

“When we’re fully staffed, especially at those outer landfills, those amount of days with closure will be reduced significantly,” Solid Waste Division Chief Michael Ratte said. “It won’t be reduced to zero because of things out of our control, like heavy rain, winds.”

Overall, the department is requesting a $5 million increase to its current budget, a 6.8 percent bump. The increases would go toward infrastructure repairs and improvements, as well as the addition of three positions for the Wastewater Division.

To help pay for the increases, Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration has proposed raising fees – including increasing sewer user fees by 5 percent, landfill commercial tipping fees from $76 to $80 per ton and trash pickup fees from $22 to $24 a month on Maui and Molokai and from $11 to $12 a month for Lanai.

With some landfills either set to close and others reaching capacity in the near future, the department will have to begin making preparations in the coming year. For example, Molokai’s landfill has about five years left before reaching capacity, Council Member Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat, pointed out.

The department plans to start designing two new cells to place adjacent to the current landfill within the next two years, Ratte said in response. This was the standard amount of time for the design and construction of a new landfill, he added.

The Central Maui Landfill is about four years away from reaching capacity, according to department data. The closure of the private Maalaea construction landfill, expected to occur later this year, will generate added costs as the county prepares to handle the diversion of an estimated 43,000 tons of construction and demolition materials in the coming fiscal year.

It will cost the department $948,000 to process the material. The total includes increased maintenance and repair of equipment, fuel, cover material, equipment rentals and services to handle concrete and rock, Ratte said. The added tipping fees will offset some of the cost, he added.

Ratte said that the department has spoken with several contractors and that P.B. Sullivan Construction has expressed interest in helping divert the demolition and construction waste.

“We’re certainly supporting any and all entities and contractors looking to do that,” Ratte said. “However, until such a time as those facilities are permitted and underway, we have to plan for the worst case scenario.”

Department officials said that the upcoming fiscal year’s missed or delayed trash pickups are estimated to be 51, which is about the same as the past two fiscal years.

“By and large these routes are actually just delayed routes,” Ratte said. “It’s picked up the following day 99 percent of the time. . . . More than 75 percent of the time we make it up in the afternoon.”

As the committee weighed the proposed budget, members expressed concern that the county’s contract with solid waste-to-energy company Anaergia could create costs even before the plant is built and completed in 2018.

The department plans to renew a contract with local composting company Maui EKO in the coming months, which is $624,000 more than in the proposed budget. EKO’s bid is nearly $3 million.

Miyamoto said the high bid is the result of EKO needing new equipment and preparing for Anaergia’s plant coming on board. When Anaergia’s contract takes effect, EKO’s contract could be cut short, meaning that “the payback period would need to be greater,” he said.

Council Member Don Couch thought it was a high price to pay.

“It feels like we’re being taken hostage,” he said. “It’s a shorter contract, but we’re getting new equipment that won’t be used for very long.”

With Anaergia awaiting a Public Utilities Commission decision that could impact the viability of its Central Maui Landfill project, committee Chairman Riki Hokama said the county is seeing “increasing cost even before the implementation of this agreement.”

“At that point in time, we were told there was no cost impact. I think that’s flying out the window,” he said, referring to a recent audit that said the county would lose about $835,000 a year instead of saving $1 million as previously presented by the administration.

“I think the clock will expire way before they even get to first base, which means we need to prepare contingency plans,” he added.

Ratte said after the meeting that “nothing else is significantly tied” to the Anaergia contract in the department’s proposed budget, except for the EKO contract. He added that the department doesn’t plan to stop the 3 Can Plan or any other recycling activities to prepare for Anaergia’s arrival, but once the contract takes effect it would be Anaergia’s decision whether to continue the programs.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.