Navy Nixes Possible City Landfill Site Near Pearl Harbor-Hickam

Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, stands as ‘Anchors Aweigh’ is played during the 2018 Governor’s Memorial Day Ceremony at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery.
Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, stands as ‘Anchors Aweigh’ is played during the 2018 Governor’s Memorial Day Ceremony at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery, May 28, 2018. (Kristen Wong/U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy will not allow the City and County of Hono­lulu to locate a new landfill on Waipio Peninsula near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the city announced Tuesday.

The city says the proposed Navy-owned site could have replaced the nearly 35-year-old Waima­nalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill in Kapolei, originally slated to close by 1997.

Closure of the existing 200-acre landfill near Ko Olina is now scheduled for 2028, though the city says its dump won't reach full capacity until 2036.

The Navy's decision, via an April 12 letter signed by Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-­Pacific Command, was based on concerns regarding the site's proximity to near-shore waters and "the Navy's mission critical operations and training activities in the vicinity of the Waipio Peninsula," the city stated in a news release.

Navy officials in Hawaii also notified Mayor Rick Blangiardi last week that the military is "unable to support the development of a landfill on this property," eliminating it from the city's consideration, the news release adds.

Starting in 2023, Blan­giardi and city Managing Director Michael Formby engaged in discussions with Aquilino and other U.S. military leaders to gain assistance in siting a new landfill on Oahu. To that end, four possible alternate sites, all on federally owned land in West Oahu and the Windward side, were under consideration, the city says.

Those sites included Lualualei in Waianae, Iroquois Point and Waipio Peninsula near Pearl Harbor, and a property near Bellows Air Force Station in Waimanalo.

But now the city says it's eliminated considering federal lands for landfill sites along the Waianae Coast. And for its part, the military has "excluded" Bellows area lands, too, the city says.

City officials Tuesday could not be immediately reached for comment over any other potential landfill sites on Oahu.

Meantime, Blangiardi thanked Aquilino and other military officials, including Rear Adm. Stephen D. Barnett, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, "for their commitment to working collaboratively with the city on the shared objective of finding a suitable landfill site that benefits the greater Oahu community."

In 2019, the state Land Use Commission issued a decision and order that required Honolulu to identify an alternative landfill site to Waimanalo Gulch Landfill no later than Dec. 31, 2022.

The city asserts that between 2021 and 2022 it conducted a formal landfill site selection analysis -- in addition to a previous analysis completed in 2012 -- through a mayor-appointed Landfill Advisory Committee. That committee held a total of eight meetings, evaluating and scoring six proposed landfill sites, the city says.

However, the LUC's 2019 decision and order predated the state Legislature's 2020 passage of Act 73, a law that prohibits construction, modification or expansion of waste disposal facilities without first establishing a half-mile buffer zone between the edge of the facility and nearest residential area, school or hospital, the city says.

Act 73 also prohibits waste or disposal facilities in conservation districts, except under emergency circumstances, the city says.

And at a Dec. 14, 2021, meeting, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply also raised concerns over siting a landfill within its own "no pass zone," an area that covers the interior of the island where Oahu's potable water aquifer is located.

BWS noted that six potential sites under consideration were situated above drinking water aquifers. At the Landfill Advisory Committee's Feb. 7, 2022, meeting, committee members noted placing a landfill within the BWS "no pass zone" would be a concern as well, the city says.

In its final June 2022 report, the Landfill Advisory Committee ranked the six potential sites but chose not to recommend any of them for use as the city's next landfill site.

By November 2022, the city requested a formal response on the issue from BWS. It responded by saying it did not approve of any of the six proposed sites -- in Central Oahu and on the North Shore -- because they were all in the "no pass zone," the city says.

Given what the city deems are limitations of Act 73 and BWS' position on siting landfills in that zone, the city says it filed an application with the city Department of Planning and Permitting in December 2022 to modify the Dec. 31, 2022, deadline to identify an alternative landfill site.

In its application, the city noted that when Act 73 and the BWS "no pass zone" are applied as restrictions, there are no potential landfill sites available on Oahu except on federal lands.

After filing the application to modify the deadline, the city says, it "began high-level conversations with the military about federal properties that could potentially be used to site a new landfill."

These federal properties, the city adds, were located outside of the limitations of Act 73 and outside the "no pass zone" -- with Waipio Peninsula identified as one such property.

According to the city, the Landfill Advisory Committee's recommendation that the city explore an amendment to Act 73 that would reduce the minimum buffer distance or utilize conservation lands to make additional sites available for consideration.

The city says it also intends to hold discussions with BWS on "best management practices for a possible landfill site within a 'no pass zone.'"

Meanwhile, the city Department of Environmental Services still awaits a requested two-year extension, to Dec. 31, 2024, to find an alternate site for Waimanalo Gulch Landfill. But despite an ongoing contested case hearing the Honolulu Planning Commission has overseen since August, no final decision has been rendered.

During the panel's April 3 meeting, city Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Hu reiterated that except for possible locations on federally owned lands, no other landfill sites were available.

To that, Commission Vice Chair Ryan Kamo queried the city over its delay in filing for the two-year extension, days before the Dec. 31, 2022, deadline to locate a new landfill site.

"Why was that filed so late, nine days before the actual deadline?" Kamo asked.

Hu replied, "It was filed late because we tried to do as much as we (could ) to meet that deadline," adding that "it takes a little time to draft the application."

But Kamo noted that "these proceedings have taken a while since we initially started our discussions."

"And the extension that we're considering now is going up until Dec. 31, 2024, which doesn't leave us a whole lot of time, and if we don't meet that deadline, I have a strong feeling that we'll be in the same boat," Kamo said. "What types of assurances do we have that this time the city's going to make more progress?"

Hu replied, "Frankly, I cannot give you an assurance other than that we've got the mayor and managing director out there discussing with our federal counterparts" use of federal land for a landfill.

"The city administration, not just ENV, is heavily interested in finding that next landfill site," Hu added. "With the federal lands, to my knowledge, there's no other legal way to obtain them, so we're kind of at their whims."

The Planning Commission's next scheduled meeting is May 15.

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