The use of trailers may be allowed again soon at certain Big Island transfer stations.
At a Tuesday meeting of the County Council’s Regenerative Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management Committee, Ramzi Mansour, director of the Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management, said that five of the county’s 22 transfer stations could possibly be modified to once again allow people to use towable trailers to deposit waste.
The department in April announced that all trailers and dump beds would be prohibited at all Big Island transfer stations, citing safety concerns.
Mansour reiterated those concerns Tuesday, saying none of the transfer stations are designed for trailers, which can easily strike other users, vehicles or infrastructure in the limited space available.
However, he said, the transfer stations in Hilo, Pahoa, Waimea, Kealakehe and Waiohinu have been identified as needing the fewest modifications necessary to accommodate a trailer with a 3-cubic-yard capacity, which has dimensions of about 6 feet by 9 feet.
“That’s the Home Depot kind of trailer,” Mansour said, adding that the retailer started selling trailers of that size for $300 a few years ago, leading to many Big Island residents purchasing them — and using them without much prior practice.
If those five transfer stations are modified, users would be allowed to use trailers one day a week to deposit waste at specific places at each station, where a chute would be installed.
Mansour said the department still needs to conduct further assessments to determine how much such modifications would cost.
As for the remaining 17 transfer stations, Mansour said his department, at the council’s request, could conduct an assessment to determine how they could be modified to accommodate trailers.
“But it’s not going to be cheap,” he said.
Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz repeatedly urged Mansour to expedite the modification process, asking whether the modifications could be made in 90 days.
Mansour said the Waiohinu transfer station, for example, cannot be modified in that timeframe, but Deputy Corporation Counsel Malia Kekai said new rules for the modified stations could be drafted within 30 days.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy pressed the issue, however, asking whether the county could waive liability for possible damage or injury by posting notices informing users to use trailers “at their own risk.”
Corporation Counsel Elizabeth Strance vehemently opposed that suggestion.
“Nobody in our office will ever say ‘go ahead and do something unsafe,’” Strance said. “You will not ever hear an opinion from our office suggesting that the county can just sign off on something we know to be unsafe.”
Strance went on to tell the committee to “let (Mansour) do his job,” saying they were “browbeating a department head who has found twice that it is unsafe, and now trying to fast track a new rule to get around it.”
Strance’s statement ended discussion about the pace of the modifications, but Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball urged Mansour to at least investigate possible modifications to the Laupahoehoe Transfer Station, considering that within the next five years, several bridges on Highway 19 will need to be repaired or replaced, which will make it all the more difficult to transport waste to other stations.
Even though the decision to prohibit trailers was met with frustration earlier this year — Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder reiterated his opinion Tuesday that the decision was irrational and unnecessary — Mansour said it has not impeded the county’s duties.
“We’re still serving the public,” Mansour said. “We haven’t closed any of the stations. We’re not denying service.”
But until any of the transfer stations are modified, Deputy Environmental Management Director Brenda Iokepa-Moses urged residents to practice driving with trailers before trying to bring them to a transfer station.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.