KAILUA-KONA — It’s been more than six weeks since the Department of Environmental Management stopped accepting green waste at the Keei Transfer Station in South Kona, and it doesn’t appear ready to re-open for such business anytime soon.
Departmental staff shortages and logistical problems have kept the station’s gates closed to green waste, which has necessitated residents in the area haul their truckloads to the Kealakehe Transfer Station or even farther north to the Puuanuhulu Landfill.
“The basic issue is we allowed too much green waste to be placed in the green waste area. We have exceeded our permitted amount,” said Bill Kucharski, DEM director. “We should have maintained that and we didn’t, so that’s on us.”
When even one driver uses a vacation day or calls in sick, the department is forced to make decisions about which stations it will service and in what capacity, Kucharski continued. DEM prioritizes more hazardous household waste over green waste.
He added drivers are being diverted whenever possible to alleviate the situation in Keei but a grapple also needs to make it to the site to load the trucks, an inconvenient and time-consuming endeavor considering the station’s lack of accessibility on the one-lane Puuhonua Road.
“It shouldn’t be an indefinite thing,” said Kucharski, though he was unable to provide a timeline for a solution. “But I don’t have the resources to just send six trucks down there, get all that stuff moved out and go.”
Since March 22, several problems have arisen because the site can’t accept green waste. Richard Marsch said dumpers uninformed of the station’s status have caused traffic jams. Other residents in the area have complained about green waste simply being dumped on the side of the road.
In general, residents say it’s simply an inconvenience and that the county is prioritizing other parts of the island over South Kona.
“It’s not fair to us,” said one man who asked his name remain out of print. “We’re an agricultural area. It’s something that needs to be addressed.”
One way the county could address it is to move the facility altogether. DEM is currently scouting other potential sites in the area with better infrastructure and improved access to where it can relocate the Keei Transfer Station.
That process is ongoing without a specified end date, Kucharski said, because there aren’t a lot of landowners in the region and most of the parcels there belong to the state or Bishop Estate. But eventually the station will be moved, Kucharski said.
“We’ll have better controls and better operational systems in there so we will not get into this kind of fix,” he added.
A move would also help alleviate the problem of commercial dumping at transfer stations, which the county doesn’t permit but which Kucharski said happens frequently and is part of the reason green waste piled up at the Keei site more quickly than the county could respond to it.
Even before the site’s eventual relocation and upon its re-acceptance of green waste, employees at the Keei Transfer Station will be given a directive to be more thorough in their enforcement duties and turn away commercial operators, which are classified as businesses of any kind including farms and ranches.
Such business concerns are directed to dispose of their green waste directly at the landfill in West Hawaii, where their loads are weighed and commensurate fees are levied for the cost of disposal.