Monday | February 20, 2017
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County panel hears from testifiers opposed to garbage incinerator

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille isn’t the only one fuming about a likely waste-to-energy incinerator for Hawaii County.

Thirty-one testifiers, from rubbish and recycling companies to environmentalists to schoolteachers, gave their input Tuesday on Wille’s resolution seeking to put the brakes on the project. Two former County Council members and three County Council candidates joined the parade.

“My fear is we’re moving toward a feed-the-beast mentality,” Wille said.

Her Resolution 452 is nonbinding on the administration asking Mayor Billy Kenoi to throw out the current request for proposals and start anew with broader requirements to allow more companies to participate. She contends the RFP was flawed because the specifications in the solicitation didn’t align with what Kenoi said his intentions were when he met with the council in January to explain the project.

After several hours of listening to testimony, the Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability recessed until July 1 so members could hear from Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, who couldn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Former Ka‘u Councilman Bob Jacobson reminded the council it is the policymaking body, not the mayor, and it should stick to the policies it laid out in its zero-waste initiatives instead of falling back to the “old polluting technologies.”

“Instead of doing the right thing, he put forth this perverted RFP,” Jacobson said of the mayor.

“Instead of encouraging reuse, reducing and recycling of waste, we’re advocating doing the opposite,” said Jonathan Long, a University of Hawaii at Hilo student and member of its sustainability committee.

“Instead of committing taxpayer dollars to a big silver bullet that ties us to off-island interests for decades, we should first try multiple small-scale local operations that allow us to change course as needed,” said Cory Harden, representing the Sierra Club’s Moku Loa group.

All but one of the testifiers were clearly opposed to incineration. Margaret Chang, testifying at the West Hawaii Civic Center, said she thought waste-to-energy is a good idea, provided there is upstream segregation to remove the valuable components.

Most testifiers said a garbage incinerator would reduce the county’s incentive to reach its zero-waste goal. Some worried about the cost, others about the environmental risk.

Kenoi has said green waste and recyclables will be removed from the waste stream before it goes to a facility, but Wille and many testifiers still worry valuable recyclables and green waste would go into a garbage-burner to meet the waste quota.

“Burning carbon that could be returned to our gardens as compost or mulch is a crazy idea,” said Jeffrey Rout, speaking from Pahoa.

Wille said the details of the RFP limited proposals to massive waste-to-energy systems by calling for a single proposer who has three years of experience handling 95,000 tons of municipal solid waste per year and requiring substantial production of energy. That eliminated groups planning to partner to pool their areas of expertise, she said.

The energy component, according to Wille, automatically limited composting facilities, which would create valuable compost and mulch rather than energy. A short-list of finalists released by the county Tuesday showed three waste-to-energy incinerator companies as the only finalists.

While the resolution is nonbinding, the council will get the final word when it’s asked to approve the contract with the chosen vendor. That won’t happen until next spring, after a new council is seated.

“I think she’s got to make her case to fellow council members,” Kenoi said of Wille’s resolution.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at


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