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County considers nearly $5M for Kaua‘i landfill issue

LIHU‘E — County of Kaua‘i council members considered proposed funding to address the ongoing Kekaha landfill crisis during its annual budget meeting on Tuesday, as representatives from the county Department of Public Works broke down how requested funding would confront the questionable future of Kaua‘i’s only landfill.

In a presentation to county council members last month, County Services Manager Allison Fraley said the Kekaha landfill is expected to reach maximum capacity in October 2026, and that many options were being considered to continue managing the island’s waste, including the construction of a new landfill.

In the Tuesday meeting, Fraley explained how the department would use $2.6 million in funding for the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year for “new landfill development and engineering.”

She said the department has identified a potential new landfill site with willing landowners, the state Agriculture Development Corporation, but an assessment is needed to determine its feasibility.

“We’re in the process of getting a consultant on board to do preliminary engineering to establish whether the site is feasible from an engineering perspective,” she said.

The appropriated balance of $600,000 will be used for an initial site report, a topographic survey, a site development plan and planning level cost estimates.

“That’s the initial work that will be done to assess feasibility,” said Fraley. “And then the additional $2 million would be used for a 30 percent design, community outreach, and then also an EIS (environment impact statement) that would happen prior to the actual design.”

Council Member Felicia Cowden expressed some concern about the expected amount of time needed to complete the study, recalling that a previously proposed new landfill site on Ma‘alo Road failed after several years of studies and meetings.

“What is the time frame that we would expect for this $2 million study?” asked Cowden.

Fraley estimated that it would take about a year for the study, but that the environmental impact statement could take “a couple more years.”

The private consultant AECOM first identified the Ma‘alo site as a top choice for a new landfill back in 2012, and the county held a series of public meetings requesting feedback in 2018.

“It felt like I went to meetings for 10 years,” said Cowden. “I just remember people who brought their kids, seemed like they were toddlers. And then they were in middle school or something by the time we finished it.”

The plan for the Ma‘alo site was eventually abandoned in 2021, after county officials said the site would increase bird strikes at Lihu‘e Airport.

Troy Tanigawa, acting county engineer, addressed the failed plan for the Ma‘alo landfill, saying it “was the first effort in several decades” to find a new site. “We’re taking lessons from that effort,” he said.

The 2023-24 budget has several other budget allotments to help with Kaua‘i’s waste and landfill management, including more than $1.08 million carried over from the 2022-23 budget for best management practices of refuse transfer stations islandwide.

“We’re getting ready to go out to bid for construction,” said Fraley, adding that there are construction plans at refuse stations this summer.

There’s also $200,000 from the 2022-23 budget for a “gas system” at a landfill no longer in operation. The funding is for a gas flare at the former Halehaka landfill in Lihu‘e, which opened in 1973 but closed to the public in June 1991.

“This can only help with Halehaka because we will get more accurate readings from the gas, and we’ll be able to develop a post-closure plan that’s more accurate if we install this tiny flare,” said Fraley.

A government document on the county’s closure/post-closure plan for the landfill, written back in 1994, states the landfill could contain hazardous wastes and materials. Flares are typically used at landfills to monitor and process gases, mainly methane and carbon dioxide.

About $400,000 is also planned to go to “monitoring wells” at the Kekaha landfill. Fraley said the money would actually be for “upgrading the wells,” so that they can test the groundwater and “know what the baseline is.”

Additionally, there is $32,808 remaining from last year’s budget for “solid waste solutions,” with no new money being proposed for this year.

Council Member Bill DeCosta asked if any money was being put toward burning trash to resolve the landfill issue and about the results of a $300,000 study, completed by engineering consultants HDR Inc. last year, where they analyzed different landfill alternatives.

“Are we gonna put any money towards that plan? And how much money would we have to put towards that plan to divert some of our trash to burn?” he asked.

“For $4 million or $5 million, we can convert that plant into burning X amount a percentage of our waste,” he said of the Kekaha landfill.

Fraley said her department plans on requesting a committee meeting in a couple of weeks to share the results of the study.

“So that’s when technologies can come and propose to be able to manage Kaua‘i’s waste long term,” she said.

The budget also proposes $525,000 of new money for the Kekaha landfill expansion, a plan to laterally and vertically expand the landfill. Fraley said that if both types of expansions are implemented, the landfill could continue operating for another 25 years.

Funding for the management of Kaua‘i’s waste and trash is just one part of Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami’s $402 million budget proposal, which consists of a $312 million operating budget and a $90 million capital improvement projects budget.

The county’s annual budget process began on March 22, with final decision-making set for May 12.


Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or
Source: The Garden Island

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