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OPINION: Talking Trash – Hilo’s Garbage Woes

April 23, 2012, 4:47 PM HST
* Updated April 23, 4:54 PM
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We all knew it was wrong, but it felt so good.

For years we indulged ourselves in an all-you-can-dump free-for-all, tossing everything from broken chairs and kitchen scraps to photos of former spouses down a metal chute with reckless abandon.

Then, after sweet release, we would leave and try to forget.

But all those garbage bags full of foul smells and bad memories have been piling up over the years, welcoming countless more to their ranks, until a reeking mountain of fermenting junk now threatens to shut down our beloved Hilo landfill and hold us hostage to our own bad habits.

Poor planning is mostly to blame for east Hawaii’s garbage woes. While well over $2 million has been spent in the last decade on consultants, our county council has been kicking an increasingly oversized can down the road, bringing us to our current predicament: The Hilo landfill is set to close in five years or less, and the number of solutions available is dwindling.

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The county has long had a fallback plan, should a new Hilo landfill be unfeasible – trucking garbage collected at the east Hawaii facility to Pu`uanahulu on the west side of the island. Doing so could give the government over 25 years to figure out its next move.

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This idea infuriates many west Hawaii residents and businesses, and who could blame them? Roads packed with tourists and commuting locals would now be shared with rigs dragging around putrid rubbish. This would be dangerous, inconvenient, and potentially embarrassing.

Imagine this potential scenario. An elderly couple from Oklahoma parks on the side of the Saddle Road to take in majestic views of Mauna Kea. As a Semi truck loaded with refuse passes behind them, the wife remarks, “Oh it’s so beautiful, so *cough*, Harold! What’s that smell?” to which her husband might reply, “Must be a native blossom.”

At a recent public gathering in Kona, Mayor Billy Kenoi assured residents that no garbage from Hilo would be arriving at the west Hawaii landfill any time soon, stating “There is no plan by myself as mayor to truck rubbish to Pu`uanahulu.” Councilman Dominic Yagong, the mayor’s chief election year rival, was quick to voice his opposition to diverting trash to the site.

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Days later, it was revealed that the county had already begun hauling garbage from east Hawaii to the Pu`uanahulu landfill in January, leaving Kenoi’s administration scrambling for an explanation. Kenoi himself has courageously ducked any incoming fire from the press, sending them to the Department of Environmental Management for answers.

Councilman Yagong, who wants the problem solved by expanding the east Hawaii landfill into a nearby rock quarry, had previously announced his intention to shut down the trucking option and throw away the keys. He will be bringing a measure before the council early in May that would ban the county from transporting additional trash to Pu`uanahulu.

Four other council members had already voiced opposition to trucking prior to the mayor’s gaffe, and now Yagong has even more political fuel to drive his measure through to a veto-proof passage. This would in effect force Hawaii County to construct a new landfill next to the existing Hilo site within five years, a complex project that could easily be derailed by the thick wads of red tape in its path, leaving the county with no clear backup plan.

While Mayor Kenoi is busy dislodging his foot from his mouth, Yagong could easily paint east Hawaii residents into a very smelly corner.

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