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Hawaiian Garbage Waits on New Plans

by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, January 10, 2010

Officials review proposed change in off-loading site

Get ready to say "Aloha" to Hawaiian garbage.

After a three-year delay, garbage from Honolulu could begin making its way to a landfill in Roosevelt, at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, this year. That's the word from Jim Hodge, the Seattle-based entrepreneur who heads Hawaiian Waste Systems.

However, garbage is piling up in Honolulu while federal environmental regulators analyze a change of plans by the company.

A story in the Honolulu Advertiser last week described complaints by neighbors to the company's solid waste transfer station, which began accepting municipal waste in October in anticipation of shipping it to Roosevelt.

Those neighbors are reporting problems with buzzing gnats and odor, according to the Advertiser story.

"They're all over your face, they go on your shirt," a worker at one nearby company told the newspaper, referring to the gnats. As for the odor, the worker said, "you can smell it in the air conditioning."

Hodge said the storage problem in Honolulu has already been addressed with insecticide, but the company is still waiting for clearance from federal environmental regulators to begin shipping garbage to the mainland.

And that process has been delayed by a change in plans on the receiving end.

Rather than hauling the waste on ocean-going barges all the way through three sets of dams on the Columbia River, Hodge said the company prefers to off-load the compacted and shrink-wrapped municipal waste at Portland, Longview or Rainier, Ore. It would then be hauled by rail or truck to Roosevelt.

It's a matter of efficiency, Hodge said.

"We can store it at the port and pick up 10 or 20 containers a day, so they would be metered into Roosevelt, rather than 300 going in at one time," he said Friday.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the company's original plan to barge the waste directly to Roosevelt. The agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service found that the proposal would not introduce exotic nonnative pests from Oahu, which could pose a serious environmental threat to the Pacific Northwest. The USDA required the garbage to be transported in baled air-tight packages.

Hodge characterized the switch to off-loading at a port along the lower Columbia as an "administrative change," but a USDA spokesman said it's more serious than that.

"We don't have the luxury of saying, 'Gee whiz, it's all the Columbia River. It all looks the same to us,'" said Larry Hawkins, a USDA western regional spokesman in Sacramento. "I don't think the residents of Washington or Oregon, either one, would be satisfied with that."

Hawkins said the agency expects to finish an environmental assessment of the company's new plan soon. It will then be published in the Federal Register, with a 30-day period for public comment.

The city of Honolulu has agreed to pay Hodge's company $99 per ton to ship 100,000 tons of municipal waste to Washington annually. That's a small portion of all the trash generated on Oahu, which is running short of landfill space. The city of Honolulu also incinerates waste.

Erik Robinson
Hawaiian Garbage Waits on New Plans
The Columbian, January 10, 2010

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