The 2.8 Million Dollar Question


Shouldn’t digging a hole in the ground and burying trash be as simple as taking candy from a baby?  Not if the candy is worth 92 dollars a ton and comes at the expense of the taxpayer.   And, not to mention the negative impacts the landfill has on our natural environment.


In January, 2006, a Notice and Finding of Violation (Docket # 05-SHW-SWS-004) was issued to Waste Management Inc (WMI), the company that runs the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill under the City and County of Honolulu, on the following 18 counts: 

1)  Exceedence of permitted Grades;  2)  Failure to submit Annual Operating Reports in a Timely Manner;  3)  Failure to place daily cover on the active face of landfill;  4) Failure to place intermediate cover material on ash monofill;  5 and 6)  Exceedance of leachate head on liners;   7 and 8) Failure to Measure Leachate Levels and Maintain Records;  9)  Failure to notify DOH of noncompliance on equipment blockage; 10) Failiure to Notify DOH of Noncompliance on Exceedence of Permit Grade and Submission of AORs;  11) Unauthorized storage of material on the ash monofill;  12)  Failure to manage and ban the acceptance of special waste; 13)  Failure to maintain records and record location of asbestos disposal; 14)  Failure to cover a dead animal;  15)  Failure to Submit Annual Surface Water Management Plan; 16)  Failure to control the generation of dust from vehicular traffic; 17)  Failure to minimize free litter generation; 18) Failure to monitor explosive gases and maintain monitoring records. 


Apparently the above violations came on the heels of the City and County’s Blue Ribbon Commission’s decision, in December, 2003, to close the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill when its permit expires in May 2008.    We wonder, based on this decision, did WMI and the City and County of Honolulu cut back on expenditures, staff and other resources at the landfill?   In other words, why put money into the landfill if it is going to be closed?   


For approximately three years WMI operated the landfill without an environmental specialist on staff.    Was there a hiring freeze in place?  Was equipment reduced and limits placed on outside contractors?  By looking at manpower, equipment and contractor lists for the years 2001-2006 we can determine the extent of the cutbacks.  DOH can also get information by looking at personnel time sheets.


Internal checks and balances should have existed within Waste Management Inc. and  their engineering consultant firm, GeoSyntac to catch these types of problems.    DOH and WMI provided annual training on environmental requirements.   If WMI and their consultants conducted annual internal operation and environmental audits, as they were supposed to, why did so many problems of this magnitude exist?


Waste Management, Inc, in its Annual Operating Report for the period 7/1/03 to 6/30/04, stated that the landfill received 96,230 tons of H-power ash.  The report also stated that, based on the topography on 1/5/04, there was no remaining airspace in the ash monofill.   WMI’s landfill permit expires in 2008.  However, four years prior to the expiration they were out of space.  This suggest that there is a problem with WMI’s expertise in planning


In February, 2005, a puzzling situation occurred at the landfill.   DOH inspectors noted the active ash disposal area 3 had a large stockpile of ash without the required 7 day intermediate cover.  The inspectors expressed their concerns to Mr. Steve Cassulo, WMI’s general manager at the landfill.  He gave two excuses.  First, they could not cover the ash because it was wet and takes a while to dry.  Second, to add insult to injury,  he stated that he “does not interpret the permit condition to require ash to be covered every seven days”.  When WMI accepted the permit they agreed to the conditions of the permit.   How did they misinterpret this requirement?


The facts, as stated in the Notice and Finding of Violation, represent a failure in management by both the City and County of Honolulu and WMI.   In particular, the City, as the owner, failed in its responsibility to oversee WMI.   Based on the number and seriousness of the violations you may wonder if WMI is even qualified to operate a landfill.  Their national commercial suggests that they have the expertise, so how could they have made so many blunders?   Why, even today, are they still allowed to run the landfill without complying with the conditions of their permit?   


Now we have learned that Governor  Linda Lingle is allowing the Department of Health and Attorney General to negotiate a resolution, behind closed doors, to the violations and the resultant 2.8 million dollar fine with Waste Management Inc. and the City and County of Honolulu.  The Governor and other parties are not informing or including the public in any discussions of possible settlements, even though it is the public’s environment and their tax dollars at stake.  Are these negotiations, behind closed doors and out of public view, designed to conceal the facts?  


I had to go to the extraordinary length of retaining a lawyer and filing a federal lawsuit in an attempt to gain access to the proceedings.  When requesting documents from the DOH I was informed that I would be charged more than $650 for retrieval and copying the documents.  Is this open government of the people, for the people and by the people, or is this a government for big business and a government that big business can buy?   It is important to note that whatever the workout is, the conditions will bind either side and possibly pave the way for granting the extension of the landfill’s closing date that the City is requesting.


A group of elders from Waianae wrote a letter to Governor Lingle asking her to provide information on the closed door proceedings.  I wonder if they will get results?    I have only touched on a minute portion of what is wrong at Waimanalo Gulch.    Again, I hope the doors will open and the taxpayers, environmentalists, and other concerned citizens will have an opportunity to view the proceedings and be allowed to comment on the workout.   But, nothing should take place until after the 2.8 million dollar fine for the violations is collected from Waste Management Inc. and the City and County of Honolulu. 


Carroll Cox,  Envirowatch, Inc.

October 28, 2007