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Honolulu Mayor Blangiardi on finding a new landfill site, improving permitting department

Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill kapolei west oahu trash trash truck
Ashley Mizuo

The City and County of Honolulu continues to look for a new landfill site on Oʻahu, possibly on military or agricultural land.

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 commission said the Kapolei site must close no later than March 2028, and an alternative site had to be identified by the end of 2022.

With time running out on Dec. 23, city officials requested a two-year extension to name a new site. Previously proposed sites were disqualified because they sit over Oʻahu's aquifer.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Wednesday that he's looking at a few possible locations on military or agricultural grounds that would not impact Oʻahu's water table. He said the 2021 Red Hill fuel spill increased the sensitivity of the aquifer situation.

The U.S. military has been criticized by local officials and the public for fuel spills at Haleakalā on Maui and Red Hill, and land use issues at Pōhakuloa on Hawaiʻi Island.

"I don't think the table could be set any better for a productive conversation from the standpoint of their willingness and their interest in wanting to rebuild, regain trust with our community," Blangiardi told The Conversation. "But again, as I said, I don't want to get ahead ourselves here and literally negotiate against ourselves by saying too much."

Speaking to The Conversation, Blangiardi also addressed the staffing shortage at the Department of Planning and Permitting.

He said they have made good strides when it comes to upgrading technology and eliminating the screening application period, but increasing the number of staff is not as easy as it seems.

"It's not like you can bring in emergency help. Unfortunately, this particular work in what it requires, when you start talking about interpretation of codes and other things and what happens in the field, is just not an easily solved thing," he said.

"But I can tell you this, we're getting out permits faster than we were before. And I don't think we're very far away from being able to make some provocative statements about the timetable that it's going to take. So I can only tell you that we are putting unprecedented money and manpower behind fixing DPP and investing in technology that was long overdue," Blangiardi said.

Blangiardi said it is a complex problem but the city is close to finalizing some programs that should speed up the permitting process, including self-certification and letting construction begin without a permit — while maintaining safety.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 8, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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