KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management closed transfer stations at Keauhou, Keei and Pahala Friday morning beginning at 9 a.m. due to what it described as an “unanticipated staffing shortage.”
DEM stated in a press release that all three stations would reopen for normal operating hours following the closures. For Keauhou and Pahala, that’s from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. Keei will reopen from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
In the meantime, residents who typically use the Keauhou and Keei stations can drop their solid waste off at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill, also known as the Puuanahulu Landfill, which is open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and is closed on Sundays. The Kealakehe Transfer Station is also open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
Residents in Pahala can dispose of their trash at the Waiohinu Transfer Station, which is open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Additionally, the Keei station’s green waste site is closed indefinitely. Though originally scheduled to reopen Sunday, DEM said the facility has reached maximum capacity as dictated by the Hawaii Department of Health. The county recommends people deposit their green waste at the Kealakehe Transfer Station, which accepts such deposits from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The department’s announcement about Friday’s reduction in transfer station accessibility was the third of its kind in less than three months. The Pahala Transfer Station was also closed early last Friday for the same reason, while the Keei Transfer Station wrapped up business hours prematurely in the beginning of January due to a lack of staff. Both of those early closures also took place on Fridays.
Michael Kaha, deputy chief of the DEM Solid Waste Division, said Friday’s issue was due to an incident that occurred earlier in the week, which affected multiple personnel. The previous two closures, however, were more sudden.
“I believe that we have the amount of people that we need to be at work,” he said of the division. “I think the struggle is always going to be people not showing up to work. The issue is when they call in sick.”
More than just DEM and its employees faced struggles Friday.
Richard Marsch, who drops his trash off at the Keei site, said there was a veritable traffic jam on Puuhonua Road when he tried to dispose of his rubbish that morning.
“There were 25 trucks backed up in there because nobody knows (it’s closed) and it’s a one way (road), there’s no way to turn around,” Marsch said. “So you have to go all the way through to the dump, turn around there and come back. Then you have to fight the other people coming in to the dump.”
He added the situation was exacerbated by the fact Keei and other stations were closed Tuesday for a state holiday. Marsch called the office of Mayor Harry Kim after his difficulties Friday and was advised to check the county website for transfer station availability each time he planned to visit before venturing out.
Kaha said only one equipment operator is needed on site at each transfer station to make it viable for use on days of operation. On the civil side of the workforce, he said, labor services aren’t employed and staff decisions are made according to the budget.
On days like Friday, when stations are supposed to be open but aren’t, the county pays employees from a private contractor to act as security behind the closed gates, tasked with ensuring people don’t dump their refuse in front of the entrance and depart.
While Kaha is content with the department’s regular workforce dedicated to managing transfer stations, he said he will seek assistance from DEM to help haul trash once the landfill in East Hawaii officially closes. That could include asking for more staff.
Bill Kucharski, DEM director, told the Hawaii Tribune Herald in February he expects the Hilo landfill to be full by late summer or early fall.
“One of my big concerns is making sure that I have enough bodies on hand to bring waste from East Hawaii to West Hawaii,” Kaha said.