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Changes to tipping fees postponed

Residential rubbish haulers will not have to raise their rates next month after a controversial change to how landfill fees are managed has been indefinitely postponed.

On May 21, 16 garbage haulers around the island received a letter from the county Department of Environmental Management’s Solid Waste Division notifying them that a residential credit, which exempts haulers of residential waste from paying landfill tipping fees, would be rescinded starting July 1.

Because landfill tipping fees will, as of July 1, cost $114 per ton, the loss of the residential credit would financially cripple most haulers.

“We’d lose a significant amount of our customers,” said Megan Brady, office manager at Eastside Rubbish and Recycling Service, explaining that many of her customers are on a fixed income and could not afford the major increase in fees necessary to offset the loss of the credit.

At a meeting Thursday night between haulers and the Department of Environmental Management, many haulers criticized the fact that the department only notified of this change in May, less than two months before it would take effect.

Environmental Management Director Ramzi Mansour agreed, calling it a “bad note.” And although he did not formally announce the extension of the credit at Thursday’s meeting, he told the haulers to continue with their operations as normal even after July 1.

“Continue with the status quo,” Mansour said, adding that he will send a letter to haulers within the month detailing the extension of the credit.

“I can’t penalize your customers for choosing to use haulers,” Mansour said, explaining that haulers having to charge extra to cover tipping fees in the absence of the credit would be, in effect, charging residents for using the landfills, which the county does not do.

On the other hand, Mansour hinted that other changes may have to be made to landfill fees. The county pays $242 to process every ton of waste, meaning the county loses more than $100 per ton even when tipping fees are imposed.

There was some confusion at Thursday’s meeting about how the credit came to be rescinded, and how it could be reinstated. Mansour repeatedly said that the decision was made at some point during the county’s previous administration, and couldn’t find any stated justification for the July 1 cutoff date.

One hauler, Steven Araujo, owner of D&D Rubbish Service, argued that the County Council had mistakenly passed a draft bill in 2020 that did not properly mark all of the changes it made to the Hawaii County Code. Because of this, Araujo said, the county must abolish that bill and try again.

However, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said she prefers to “fall forward, not walk back,” and will instead pursue a new bill clarifying the nature of the residential credit.

Lee Loy said this process will likely take at least six months.

In the meantime, Mansour told the haulers that they should hold quarterly meetings with Environmental Management to ensure communication between all parties is sound. He also suggested that haulers consider possible changes to their business, such as establishing set boundaries that each hauler operates within and streamlining the process by which haulers’ customers are vetted.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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