State investigating alleged illegal dumping in Ookala

  • Courtesy photo An array of scrap metal and other materials is seen at an Ookala property. Investigators are probing a report of illegal and unauthorized dumping of waste, including animal carcasses and military munitions, in Ookala, the state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday.

  • Courtesy photo Among the items found at the Ookala property were military munitions. U.S. Army officials at Pohakuloa Training Area said Tuesday an investigation was already underway after the base was notified by Hawaii County Civil Defense on Monday of the alleged dumping.

The state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that investigators are looking into a report of illegal and unauthorized dumping of waste, including animal carcasses and military munitions, in Ookala.

Spokeswoman Janice Okobu said the Health Department’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch received a referral from the state Department of the Attorney General of a complaint filed Aug. 26 about dumping of construction material and scrap in Ookala.

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The branch reached out to the complainant, but didn’t hear back until Sunday, she said. A follow-up was conducted Monday, at which point investigators received more information including alleged munitions dumping, as well as potential mismanagement of animal carcasses, in addition to the construction and scrap metal dumping.

“Because munitions dumping was mentioned, the Hazardous Waste Section of our branch and the (Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response) Office were asked to investigate, also,” Okubo said. “We are still gathering information and will likely contact the operator/landowner to ask more questions.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Army officials at Pohakuloa Training Area on Tuesday said an investigation was already underway after the base was notified by Hawaii County Civil Defense on Monday about the alleged dumping.

“The Army will transparently work with the Hawaii Department of Health and local officials to help determine what happened, and if needed assist in clean up as permitted by law,” said Lt. Col. JR Borce, Pohakuloa Training Area commander.

Among the refuse and recyclables found at the site were military munitions storage and shipping containers, metal rebar and vegetable/fruit cans, the Army said in a prepared statement.

“Safety is definitely our top concern,” Borce said. “Based on the reported military items, we assess there is no imminent risk to human health or the environment from the improperly discarded military items.”

The Army said it does not haul and dispose of large-item recyclable or scrap material itself, but hires outside firms to perform that work under strict contracts that include environmental protection clauses where contractors promise to meet and comply with all applicable environmental laws and provisions.

Army contractors are required to dispose solid waste refuse at an off-post location permitted by the Department of Health. Contractors agree to remain solely responsible for remedying all federal, state and local environmental and safety violations or noncompliance issues.

“At PTA we work very hard to reduce and recycle solid waste to the greatest extent possible,” Borce said. “To hear that those efforts appear to have been undermined in this instance is disturbing and absolutely unacceptable.”

Public Affairs Officer Michael O. Donnelly said the Army is reviewing is policy to “ensure our standards are maintained.”

“This is a case where someone made poor decisions when the Army was not looking,” he said.

PTA said records indicate a former disposal contractor might be possibly responsible, but declined to name the vendor. The Army does not publish contracts awarded for less than $7 million.

Donnelly said the Army contracted the company for hauling between 2013 and 2018. The contract was terminated in late 2018 “following a breach in contract and poor performance.”

He said there was “no information” available about when or how long the alleged dumping might have occurred.

County Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter said she reported the issue Sunday after being contacted by residents who witnessed and photographed the alleged illegal dumping in August.

Among the photographed items were military munitions, abandoned vehicles and cow carcasses strewn about a large property.

“I don’t know when the PTA garbage got down there. I know there were dump trucks hauling metals and scraps down and the dump trucks were leaving empty,” Poindexter said, later noting the activity likely took place because a hired contractor didn’t “want to pay the disposal fee, so I think they are burying it on the property down there.”

Regarding the carcasses, Poindexter said she is concerned about wastewater issues, particularly in the wake of wastewater discharges that resulted in an agreement to cease operations at Big Island Dairy in 2019.

“When they are slaughtering, where is all the wastewater going?” she asked.

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Attempts to reach the owner of the property where the alleged dumping occurred were unsuccessful as of press time Tuesday.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

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