Mayor plans composting facility meeting

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Mayor Harry Kim says he will hold a community meeting with Panaewa residents before moving forward with a planned composting facility.

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Mayor Harry Kim says he will hold a community meeting with Panaewa residents before moving forward with a planned composting facility.

The $10.5 million facility has faced opposition from homesteaders who say its planned location in a former quarry near the Hilo landfill is too close to their lots.

“We’re in favor of the facility but not in that location,” said Bobby Yamada, treasurer of the Keaukaha-Panaewa Farmers Association. He said odor is a concern.

Kim said he is having the Public Works Department review the county’s contract with Hawaiian Earth Recycling, signed last May.

A notice to proceed pending an environmental assessment and other steps was issued July 1.

The county’s plan was to begin construction this spring.

A draft environmental assessment released last August said the facility would compost 28,000 tons of organic waste its first year in operation and ramp up to 35,000 tons by year 10.

The project is part of the county’s efforts to reuse more of its waste and assist with the closure of the Hilo landfill, which is estimated to be full in about three years. Nonorganic waste would then be trucked to Pu‘uanahulu landfill in Kona.

The county has hired a consultant to draft a landfill closure plan.

In addition to the location concerns for the composting site, Kim said he has his own questions regarding how food waste would be collected and whether that would require more county resources.

“I said I’m putting a halt to this until we can get a good look at this,” he said.

In the meantime, Yamada said two members of the farmers association will travel to Washington state in January to tour similar composting facilities.

In November, Solid Waste Division Chief Greg Goodale said that was being offered to help address their concerns. He said then the cost would be paid by the contractor.

He said the facility, which would be on property adjacent to undeveloped homestead lots, should not create additional noise or odors for neighbors.

“We believe there’s enough of a buffer … that we don’t believe there to be any impact even at that point where they start to develop some of those lots,” Goodale previously said.

Kim said he hopes to hold the community meeting in a few weeks.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who has asked for a more in-depth assessment of the project, said she is glad the county is continuing a dialogue with the residents.

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“It wasn’t until the (environmental assessment notice) came out that the community became aware that this is something that’s going to happen,” she said. “I’m very proud of the community to recognize … they need to be at the table.”

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

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