KAILUA-KONA — Staff shortages continue in the county Department of Environmental Management, this time prompting the closure Monday of two transfer stations and a green waste site in West Hawaii.
Residents looking to drop their trash that piled up over the weekend at the Keauhou and Waiea transfer stations, in North Kona and South Kona respectively, were left with no other choice than to take transport their refuse miles north to the Kealakehe Transfer Station, resulting in long lines there.
Those looking to rid green waste were forced to head even farther north to the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill as the Kealakehe green waste site was also shuttered.
“When we don’t have enough people to come into work, we just don’t have enough people to open,” DEM Director William Kucharski said Monday afternoon speaking from Oahu after Solid Waste Division Chief Michael Kaha did not respond to requests for comment.
Kucharski did not have the number of employees absent Monday, but said closures are only implemented when management cannot call in enough employees to keep all 23 facilities around the island open. Employees, who are unionized, also cannot be forced to work overtime.
This morning, the county said shortages prompted the closure of the Kealakehe Transfer Station, but expected it to reopen Wednesday.
In order to keep the bigger facilities open, the county closes facilities that serve smaller communities, like Keauhou and Waiea, in order to staff and keep the centralized Kealakehe Transfer Station open, he said. Keei Transfer Station isn’t open on Mondays.
“The bad news on that is if they’re small, that means they’re open only a few days a week and if we shutdown for one day, we’re shutting down a third of the service,” he said. “I truly do appreciate their unhappiness with the situation.”
But a solution is being sought, Kucharski said, noting that ideas include additional positions or even a different job description, such as an on-call person.
“We’re taking another look at our staffing needs and some time (in the future) we’re going to be providing the mayor and the council with estimates of what we’re going to need to keep all of these stations open,” Kucharski said.
South Kona Councilwoman Maile David, whose district Keei and Waiea transfer stations are located, said she has suggested to DEM and Human Resources to create an emergency hire list that would not conflict with collective bargaining, and could only be utilized if a county employee is unavailable.
“What it basically boils down to in my opinion is, our taxpayers are being held hostage because government cannot provide critical services due to staffing issues,” she said. “We have to be creative in finding a reasonable solution that does not conflict with collective bargaining issues, is a contingency plan to address situations when no county staff is able to work due to unexpected illness, and, ensure that our communities are not left holding the short end of the stick.”
Staffing shortages have plagued the department for the better of the year, prompting sudden the sudden closures.
Michael, who declined to provide his last name, was one of many people dropping waste at the Kealakehe Transfer Station Monday afternoon. The man, who typically uses the Keauhou Transfer Station, said he’s learned not to load up his truck trusting that the county facility will be open.
“I know they’re short-staffed, there’s no hard-feelings,” he said noting he always checks the county’s DEM website (www.zerowastehawaii.org) before heading out to see what’s open and what’s closed. “It’s your kuleana.”
Kucharski said another way to keep on top of closures is to subscribe to waste management alerts via Civil Defense. For more information and to sign up, visit https://www.hawaiicounty.gov/departments/civil-defense/civil-defense-messages-and-alerts.