Proposed compost site draws questions

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The project location of the new East Hawaii Organics Facility is at the end of Kipimana Street in the W.H. Shipman Business Park in Keaau.

Administrators with Hawaii County’s Department of Environmental Management say a new proposed site for a island-wide composting facility will have fewer impacts on the community and won’t be near any residences.

The proposed site is a 40-acre property on Kipimana Street, at the upper end of W.H. Shipman Business Park near Pacific Biodiesel. Three acres would be developed.

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Residents attending a meeting Thursday evening on the project’s draft environmental assessment said they were concerned about more trucks turning off Highway 130 into the business park and some wondered whether composting of green waste will leave enough mulch, which is popular and free.

Bill Kucharski, Environmental Management director, said mulch will still be free and the contractor will have to provide a minimum amount. Compost — made from food waste, compostable paper and yard waste — would be sold at rates set by the contractor, Hawaiian Earth Recycling.

Composting volumes are estimated to start at 28,000 tons per year and increase to 35,000 tons. The composting process will generate enough heat to kill invasive species and diseases, such as rapid ohia death, said Greg Goodale, county solid waste division chief.

As for traffic impacts, the EA states that there are 326 average vehicle trips per day to the existing mulching site at the Hilo landfill.

One of the main goals of the project is to reduce the amount of organic waste dumped into landfills. County officials expect lower tipping fees for organic waste to encourage residents or businesses to divert compostable material to the facility.

Organic waste would be delivered to the county’s main collection sites, such as the East and West Hawaii landfills, though it’s not clear yet if there will be drop-off sites at individual transfer stations like there is for other household waste.

As for the Hilo landfill, Kucharski said it’s estimated to be full in the spring. Trucks will then transport East Hawaii waste to West Hawaii, and then return with organic material for composting when the facility is built.

The county previously proposed building the $10.3 million facility next to the Hilo landfill.

Panaewa residents objected to that location because of its vicinity to homes and agricultural lots.

Mayor Harry Kim cancelled the contract with HER, which currently runs the mulching operation, at the start of his term because of concerns over operational costs and to allow for a new site. Two supplemental agreements were signed, and the county is finalizing a new contract, staff said.

The county said it trimmed $1.5 million off operational costs through the supplemental agreements.

Cancellation resulted in the county paying HER $277,982 for legal costs. It’s also paying up to $500,000 for design of the facility, Goodale said.

The county’s goal is to have the facility complete by July 2020. That’s when the county will have to start paying higher rates to the contractor for processing green waste whether or not the facility is operational.

Kucharski said the county doesn’t have an agreement to lease or purchase the site. County code prevents those negotiations from taking place before an EA is complete, he said.

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The document can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/compostsite.

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