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Blangiardi requests deadline extension to name next Oʻahu landfill

waimanalo gulch honolulu.jfif
City and County of Honolulu Department of Environmental Services
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Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, August 2021

With time running out, City and County of Honolulu officials requested a two-year extension to name a new municipal landfill site.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi, in a Friday afternoon press conference alongside the city’s Director of Department of Environmental Services Roger Babcock, submitted the formal request to the Honolulu Planning Commission one week ahead of the end-of-year deadline.

“It's not lost on us how important it is to residents of our island, and certainly those people on the Leeward Coast,” Blangiardi said.

The city has needed to name a new landfill site since 2019 when the state Land Use Commission added conditions to the lone municipal Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill’s permits. The LUC said the Kapolei site must close no later than March 2028, and an alternative landfill site must be identified by the end of 2022.

But finding the space for the 90-acre landfill hasn’t been easy. The city has to navigate various state and federal rules and regulations, like the type of land where landfills can be situated and buffer zones around airports, schools and residential areas. This has all but eliminated 10 of 11 previously studied sites.

Blangiardi established a Landfill Advisory Committee to study six Oʻahu locations in 2021. This summer, the body did not recommend any site due to the litany of rules and proximity to the island's aquifers. Instead, the eight-member group recommended the city lobby for an amended Act 73, which prohibits landfills on conservation land.

“So when Act 73, the (Honolulu Board of Water Supply) no pass zone, and other landfill siting restrictions and regulations are applied, there are no potential new landfill sites on non-federal lands on Oʻahu,” Babcock said.

Babcock said it would take “an act of Congress” to acquire or make an agreement for the land, but that there have been discussions with the U.S. Navy, which owns land in the Pearl Harbor and Leeward areas.

“The military generally would be reluctant to give up land that they have access. There would be security issues to both access the site and take away land that has either actual or potential military use and significance,” Babcock said. “In addition, getting an agreement with the federal government essentially would take an act of Congress, so it would be quite an endeavor.”

The two-year extension would allow the city more time to identify alternative sites and lobby for Act 73 amendments — or a full-on repeal. Babcock said the city will also consider the "feasibility of acquiring residential properties adjacent to potential landfill sites in order to create sites that would comply with Act 73 buffer."

The city is looking to build a 90-acre landfill, but with buffer zones, the space would need approximately 500 acres to fulfill these requirements.

“While there are thousands of acres, that also becomes its own challenge, given the size of that,” Blangiardi said.

Expansion or mining of the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill — the only landfill on the island — isn’t exactly viable either. About half of the landfill is ash and the other is used for refuse. About 82% of the landfill is diverted and sent elsewhere.

With two years left in this term, Blangiardi said he is planning to run for reelection. He said this issue has been long on the table, and he’s committed to finding the right landfill site and technology that’s best for the island.

“We're trying to be very much in the 21st century, but we have limitations on our island,” Blangiardi said. “We have limitations with the scope of this project, but somewhere in there, possibly, I want to be sure we exhaust all of our energies in a solution. If not, then we will develop the adequate solutions.”

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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