The state Land Use Commission last week gave the City and County of Honolulu until March 2, 2028 to close Waimanalo Gulch Landfill when the panel approved a special use permit allowing the solid waste facility to operate for now.
City Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina responded to the decision in a statement Friday, saying that officials “will weigh our options going forward.”
If the city were to comply with the commissionʻs deadline, it would need to begin searching for another site.
In 2017, the Department of Environmental Services put together a ranked list of municipal waste site alternatives. The top three were upland Nanakuli, the Ameron Quarry and Kapa’a Quarry Road.
“Once you pick a site, you have to procure funding to purchase it, and then you have to do an environmental impact statement and then get all the permits to do a landfill and then start constructing it,” Kahikina said.
Kahikina disagrees with the decision to shut down Waimanalo Gulch by 2028 because she says the deadline will mean closing it well before it reaches capacity.
“Through the city’s aggressive diversion programs, about 80 percent of O‘ahu’s solid municipal waste is being diverted away from the landfill, and we expect this percentage to increase even more in the coming years,” she said. “Increasing the diversion of waste from the landfill will cause it to take longer to reach capacity.”
Land Use Commission Chair Jonathan Scheuer explained that if the city wanted to keep the landfill open beyond the 2028 date, it has options.
“If the city wants a date farther in the future, one option available to them, that many commissioners pointed out, is that they could seek, instead of special use permit, a district boundary amendment,” he said. “If granted, [it] puts permitting control in their hands.”
The city needed approval for a special use permit from the commission because Waimanalo Gulch is on agricultural district land. The operations at the landfill are technically not allowed on agricultural land and thus the need for a special use permit.
There are four different types of land districts in the state: conservation, agricultural, rural and urban.
“There are allowed uses in each of those districts, most of those you will expect. An agricultural district is supposed to be primarily farming and related activities. A special permit is an exception to that,” Commission Executive Officer Daniel Orodenker said. “In the urban district, you can do almost anything that is allowed by the counties so the counties would then take over the zoning and uses.”
Changing the land district from agricultural to urban would require a district boundary amendment petition submitted to the commission.
“In conjunction with the district boundary amendment petition, they would have to file a bunch of other documents,” he said. “Probably the most significant of those would be an environmental assessment, eventually, perhaps, leading to an environmental impact statement.”
Another option is one the city has taken before: appealing the commission’s decision to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
In 2009, when the commission voted to eliminate solid waste from the landfill by July 31, 2012, the high court overturned that decision, allowing the landfill to continue operating.
At the time, the Supreme Court cited the Honolulu Planning Commission’s evaluation outlining the continuing need to deposit solid waste in the landfill after the 2012 date.
“We try to make our decisions the best we can based on the law and our rules and, hopefully, that means that it won’t be overturned,” Orodenker said. “Anyone can appeal anything and it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether we did interpret the law and the rules properly.”
State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro and the Ko Olina Community Association want to see the landfill completely closed by March 2027. Cal Chipchase, an attorney representing them, said by email that his clients were “relieved that a decision was finally made and that there is at last an end in sight.”
His clients want to see their proposed measures implemented, such as a plan to reduce truck traffic on Farrington Highway and a noise and odor reduction plan.
“We hope that the city will move forward with selecting a new site,” Chipchase said. “We are grateful to all of the commissioners for acknowledging the historical burden on the Leeward Coast.”
Commissioner Gary Okuda, who made the motion to close the landfill by 2028, echoed Chipchase’s statement.
“I think there is a real serious public policy concern when burdensome public facilities end up appearing on the Leeward and Waianae Coast,” he said. “The burden is not shared among the rest of the neighborhoods on the island.”