Green Guide

Hilo compost facility faces opposition from residents

Posted November 30

— Native Hawaiian communities on the Big Island plan to fight back against a planned $10.5 million composting facility adjacent to the Hilo landfill.

Residents in Keaukaha and Panaewa are seeking a more in-depth study of the project's potential environmental impacts. They oppose a draft environmental assessment that has found that the project will have no significant impact, West Hawaii Today reported (http://bit.ly/2gHB9Od).

The county is looking to begin construction in April, with plans to have the composting facility in operation by 2018. The project is meant to help the county close the Hilo landfill and recycle more of its waste.

A comment period on the composting site has been reopened and extended through Dec. 12, following pushback from residents.

Bobby Yamada with the Keaukaha-Panaewa Farmers Association said some residents may take their protests against the composting facility to court.

"Everybody has that option," Yamada said. "We'll just let the process move forward."

The draft environmental assessment released in August estimates 28,000 tons of organic waste will be composted the first year, with about 35,000 tons composted after 10 years. That includes 18,000 tons from West Hawaii that will be trucked to Hilo.

Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said the facility shouldn't create any more noise or odor than the nearby landfill. She said the county decided to have the compost site in that location because most of the infrastructure is already in place, and it can't be located at the West Hawaii landfill because of the need for water.

The composting operation will also provide free mulch that has been processed to kill invasive species, such as ohia fungus and fire ants.

"I understand the concerns, but the operations will be virtually the same," Leithead Todd said. "In fact, it's going to be no more and probably less of an impact than the current operations there."

But Lee Loy, whose Panaewa farm lot is close to the landfill, has said the new facility is a burden for the community that already houses the landfill, airport, Mass Transit baseyard and sewer treatment plant. As a planning consultant and legal researcher, she said she feels she may be able to help residents and the county reach an agreement.

"I've been asked to help. Kudos to the community. They really are engaging in the processes that are available to them," Lee Loy said.

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