Talks ongoing over composting deal

Hawaii County and Hawaiian Earth Recycling continue to hammer out the details of a new agreement after Mayor Harry Kim nixed plans to build a composting facility in a quarry near the Hilo landfill.

In a Feb. 7 letter to a County Council committee, Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said a draft of a final modified agreement was sent to the company and it could take at least another two months for that to be finished.

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The legal back-and-forth follows Kim’s decision to terminate the contract, an action he later rescinded when the company agreed to make revisions, last year because of concerns with costs and location of the $10.3 million facility. Panaewa residents objected to that spot because it’s close to some of the home lots.

The county and HER have since made two supplemental agreements addressing the search for a new location and changes in the cost of producing mulch and compost, which the county said would shave $1.5 million off the original 10-year deal in terms of operations.

But the move also has resulted in costs.

A second supplemental agreement reached last October says the county agrees to pay HER $277,982.98 for legal costs incurred between Kim’s termination and rescission notices, costs associated with work done at the quarry site and subcontractor fees.

Additionally, the county is paying for HER’s ongoing legal fees until a final agreement is reached. Kamelamela said the county hasn’t been billed for more attorney fees at this point.

Council members, during a meeting of the Environmental Management Committee on Wednesday, also were told the county will put construction of the facility out to bid rather than leaving that up to HER and then paying $10.3 million upon completion, as the original contract stated.

Kamelamela said that’s being done to ensure compliance with procurement code.

But some on the council were concerned that could lead to higher costs.

“This is going to be a train wreck,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “I hope not. … I’m going to hold some people responsible if the price escalates on this thing.”

In the meantime, the county’s Department of Environmental Management expects an environmental assessment to be complete by the end of year. The EA will analyze three sites for the facility.

DEM Director Bill Kucharski told council members last week two potential sites are located in the Shipman Industrial Park and another is near the Keaau solid waste transfer station.

Kamelamela said the county has until July 2020 to have the facility finished. Asked what would happen if that deadline is missed, he said that’s something the final agreement will address.

In the end, he anticipates the county saving money because of lower operational costs.

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“Until we hit the end when the final accounting is done, then we’re going to see how much savings we have,” Kamelamela said. “I personally feel it’s going to be savings, but I don’t know because things change.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.