LIHU‘E — As the County of Kaua‘i’s only landfill runs out of space, local officials have not yet been able to expand the current landfill’s capacity, find a new landfill location, or implement an alternative solution to help manage the decades-long issue of the island’s overflowing waste.
The Kekaha Landfill on the island’s westside, has two active fill areas, known as cells 1 and 2. Those cells have been collecting the island’s solid waste since 1993 and currently have a maximum height capacity of 120 feet above sea level.
The landfill is currently expected to reach maximum capacity in June 2027, Allison Fraley, an environmental services manager with the county’s solid waste division, said in a recent email response to The Garden Island.
To add more landfill space, the county is currently working on “the Kekaha Landfill Expansion Project,” which includes the vertical expansion of the landfill to a maximum height of 171 feet above sea level, adding roughly three years to its lifespan.
The county is planning on moving forward with the construction of another fill area, cell 3, which will allow another 85 feet of trash. Fraley is not sure how long cell 3 could be expected to hold trash before it too reaches capacity.
“The design will determine the amount of landfill capacity that the cell will provide,” she said.
At a state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) meeting on Dec. 7, 2023, the BLNR approved the County of Kaua‘i’s Department of Public Works Solid Waste Division’s third request for a time extension to complete the expansion project, moving the expected date to complete construction to Aug. 24, 2031.
“At this time, the County of Kaua‘i — Department of Public Works, Solid Waste Division, has determined it will take a minimum of eight years to develop final construction documents, obtain other required permits, procure, construct, and complete the Kekaha Landfill (KLF) Phase II Expansion Project,” states the DLNR’s 2023 extension request document.
The new 2031 goal is 13 years later than the initial deadline for completion of Aug. 24, 2018, a date set in 2012. The 2018 date was initially pushed back in 2014 when the county requested its first extension to initiate and complete the project due to delays in obtaining the Department of Health’s Solid Waste Permit. At that time, the board approved the county’s request for an Aug. 24, 2020, deadline.
Later, in 2016, the county asked for another extension, once again citing delays in obtaining the required solid waste permit, and the deadline to complete construction moved to Aug. 24, 2022.
The plan to construct cell 3 is a temporary backup solution, as the county has not been able to secure a site for a new landfill.
“The County’s intention was to not start construction of Cell 3 unless a new landfill could not be sited and built during the life of Cells 1 and 2,” the document states. “It has become evident that it is necessary for the County to commence construction of Cell 3 thus a time extension is requested.”
The request was approved during the December 2023 BLNR meeting, but multiple members noted feeling backed up against the wall to approve the landfill with no other option.
Notably, BLNR Chair Dawn Chang voted against the extension request.
“Unless we come down with a firm date (or) a firm drop deadline … It’s a very harsh consequence. But in my view, unless we force the question, people aren’t going to change their behavior,” she said.
In a follow-up email, after the extension was approved, Fraley wrote that the decision from the DLNR was needed to secure trash disposal for “the next decade or so.”
“This is a dire need that the county has been aware of and has been working on for the past 20-plus years. There are no easy or inexpensive solutions to managing waste, especially in the State of Hawai‘i,” she said.
The county has been aware of a need for a new landfill site since the 1990s, but has been unable to secure a possible new landfill site in over 20 years of efforts.
Potential sites for a landfill on the island “are extremely limited,” Fraley said, as the land needs to meet a list of exclusionary criteria including, not being within 100-year flood zones, a wetland or have unacceptable topography.
It also can’t have a slope greater than 33.33 degrees, be in areas within 1,000 feet of a water well, within 300 feet of perennial streams, on state conservation land, within 0.5 miles of urban lands, within 10,000 feet of airport runways, or 0.5 miles of schools, hospitals, and residences, according to Fraley.
The most recent option was discussed at a county council meeting back in February 2023, when Fraley said the county had identified a potential site near the current landfill. The site is owned by the Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC).
But at the Dec. 7 BLNR meeting, County of Kaua‘i Public Works Department Engineer Troy Tanigawa said ADC was no longer willing to sell the land.
“They’re considering that site valuable (agricultural) land and they’re not willing to give that up for landfill development,” Tanigawa said.
However, Tanigawa said the corporation had identified another possible location for the landfill, further west and closer to the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
“And so we are in the process of securing professional services … to conduct studies so we can obtain information to make decisions on the feasibility of that site.”
Even if the county secures that location for a landfill, Tanigawa said the landfill’s expansion and construction of the third cell would still be necessary.
“We still won’t have enough time to secure all the entitlements and develop the site (without the expansion),” he said.
In addition to the current landfill expansion and attempt to find another landfill, the county is also exploring other options, including burning trash.
According to Fraley, the county will be issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technology for a long-term management of solid waste in the coming months.
“We estimate step 1 of the RFP will be advertised early in 2024,” said Fraley in an email response last week.
“Proposals could include mass burn waste to energy technologies or other alternatives to landfill … A Waste-to-Energy proposal would be considered if it were economically feasible.”
She noted that O‘ahu already uses H-Power technology to manage high volumes of waste. According to the city of Honolulu’s website, H-power was implemented on O‘ahu in 2015 and incinerates more than 40,000 tons of trash per year from a mass burn unit, converting waste into enough electricity to power 1,500 homes.
The county is also considering the implementation of curbside recycling to help reduce landfill waste, but that likely won’t be in place for at least a few years.
According to Fraley, the county is working with consultant HDR Engineering to evaluate the “cost-benefit” of a recycling program.
Fraley noted the construction of a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) would be required before curbside recycling could be implemented.
“We need to (ensure) that the facility construction costs for the MRF and the ongoing cost of adding a new fleet of trucks and hiring another set of drivers is affordable for the county and provides enough additional waste diversion to justify the ongoing expenditure,” she said.
“Construction of this facility would take approximately three years to complete.”
Source: The Garden Island