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Editorial: Landfill dispute heats up in Nanakuli

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The proposed expansion of a private construction-debris landfill in Nanakuli remains a contentious issue among its neighbors and others on Oahu’s west side, who understandably object to continuing to bear the burden of the rest of the island’s garbage.

In July, the Legislature raised the stakes. It passed a bill that would severely restrict the future development or expansion of landfills.

Senate Bill 2386, now on Gov. David Ige’s desk, would prohibit waste disposal in a conservation district except for emergencies, and require a minimum of a half-mile buffer zone next to schools, residences and hospitals for the construction, modification or expansion of a waste or disposal facility.

One consequence could be to block the expansion of PVT Land Company’s landfill, the only one licensed to take construction and demolition debris — a critical partner for construction projects, including public ones like rail. The landfill has an estimated five years left of capacity, and PVT wants to develop 75 acres of an adjoining parcel to cover the following 30 years. PVT says it has been a good neighbor, employing the required mitigation measures, recycling up to 80% of what it receives and maintaining a 750-foot buffer.

But local residents and community groups, citing environmental and social justice concerns, say enough is enough — put the landfill somewhere else.

The question is where. On Oahu, the city said that a half-mile buffer zone requirement would nullify all 11 sites being considered for a new landfill; replacing PVT could prove impossible. And on Kauai and Maui, officials said the cost of complying with SB 2386 would require closing needed waste facilities and spending millions of dollars to acquire land.

SB 2386 appears to be an overreach, a blunt instrument that could create more problems while offering no solutions. Ige should veto it and demand a more thoughtful solution.

There is certainly good reason to be forward- thinking on controlling the state’s solid waste stream. As Hawaii’s population grows, so must the infrastructure that supports it. But landfills and other waste sites cannot simply expand forever; land is too scarce and valuable, especially on crowded Oahu. Those who depend on the landfills, including the construction and demolition industry, need to make serious efforts to reduce the amount of waste generated, through more aggressive recycling, reusing or other means.

More important, a greater number of residents could be exposed to the potential health risks and nuisances associated with waste disposal sites. Safety control measures must continuously be updated and improved.

More delays for TMT

There have been mixed signals over the past several months on the fate of the $2.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project, but the latest ones could be particularly ominous.

A move to secure federal funding for the controversial project pegged for Mauna Kea could add up to two more years of delay, which would be lamentable.

Still, this funding pursuit could indicate determination to press on with TMT in financially uncertain times. In March, an official of one partner, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, stated that it was suspending its funding due to the “stalemate” in construction but remained supportive.

And in October, partners at Canada’s University of Waterloo said Mauna Kea’s superior conditions made them willing to hold out for several more years.

Unfortunately, it may come to that. The Board of Regents of the University of California, a key partner institution, on Thursday heard debate on the project. A bid to get a National Science Foundation grant will trigger a requirement for more community input and preparation of a new environmental impact statement.

A year ago the latest round of protests began at the summit access road. A segment of the Native Hawaiian community has long opposed the project due to the mountain being seen as a sacred space. In the intervening months, the pricetag for the TMT has skyrocketed by $1 billion, so the NSF push, in the works for some time, is definitely necessary.

Although TMT has secured final state approval for its construction permit, a new EIS surely will occasion more resistance. And that prospect is likely to discourage some among the UC regents, with the anticipated continuation of legal battles. The board could decide ultimately to side with the protesters and divest from TMT.

That would be a tragic development. Officials of the telescope consortium have been plain about having a fallback plan of building instead in the Canary Islands, but it’s suboptimal by scientific standards. Further, as some told the board last week, Native Hawaiian opposition is not the consensus; many find TMT aligning well with Hawaiian traditions of exploration.

Finally, as physics student Mailani Neale rightly told the board, “TMT represents a future for us here on the islands that won’t be reliant on tourism.” Perhaps the importance of that will become clearer as time goes on.

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