Staffing shortages disrupt more solid waste services

  • Darren Harrington unloads green waste at the re-opened Keei Transfer Station in May. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Residents use the Keei Transfer Station after it was closed for a few days in May. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file photo)

HILO — It’s a new year, but closures of some of the county’s solid waste facilities continue to plague the Department of Environmental Management.

The Pahoa and Hilo transfer stations’ “white goods” and scrap metal services were closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and services at those transfer stations as well the one in Keaau were closed on Monday after reaching maximum storage capacity allowed by the state Department of Health.

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“White goods” are large appliances like water heaters, stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers.

Department Director Bill Kucharski said low staff levels are part of the issue.

Around the end and start of the year, people take accumulated vacation time, and the department ends up “having a dip in available people at this time,” he said.

Staffing shortages plagued the department throughout 2019, prompting sudden closures of transfer stations and services.

According to Kucharski, each transfer station has an individual solid waste permit from the DOH which limits the quantities of materials it can collect.

A facility may not be able to collect, for example, more than 20 refrigerators or 10 stoves.

The department uses a forklift or equipment to load the appliances onto a truck and haul them to a scrap metal dealer.

“If you don’t have a truck driver, you can’t do that,” he explained. “That’s primarily the issue. We run very tight. We don’t have excess people around for that.”

Solid Waste Division’s top priority is dealing with the household waste that comes in — materials that will degrade and could pose a health hazard, Kucharski said, adding that the division will also prioritize other waste streams.

If a collection of white goods accumulate, “I can live with that,” he said. “I cannot live with leaving a truck or container that’s full of household waste. … If we don’t have a full staff, we’ll generally keep green waste open before we would close that and do white goods. White goods will not combust, (they are) not a fire hazard … .”

Kucharski said the division is working to hire additional staff, “which always takes a long time.”

“We’re trying to address it both from getting additional staff in and looking at other ways we can bring people on so we can provide the services people expect, because we told them we’re providing these services,” he said. “We have an obligation to do what we say we’re going to do. We do that to the best of our ability with the resources we have available.”

The Solid Waste Division will hold public informational meetings to discuss transfer stations’ operating days and the possibility of modifying the current schedule for transfer stations across the island.

“We’re going around to talk to the folks about transfer stations in their area and trying to get feedback (about) how we might optimally use and have stations open on appropriate days so it’s easier for everyone and more efficient for us,” Kucharski said. “If we can optimize our system and again be able to operate in a way we can do more with less, that’s what we’re trying to do. Or at least more with the same number.”

Meetings are scheduled for 5:30-6:30 p.m. on the following days:

Jan. 14 — Naalehu Clubhouse 95-5635 Mamalahoa Highway, Naalehu.

Jan. 15 — Yano Hall, 82-6145 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook.

Jan. 16 — Aupuni Center conference room, 101 Pauahi St., Ste. 1, Hilo.

Jan. 17 — Waimea Community Center, 65-1260 Kawaihae Road, Waimea.

Jan. 21 — Honokaa Gym, 45-541 Lehua St., Honokaa.

Jan. 22 — Keaau Community Center, 16-186 Pili Mua St., Keaau.

Jan. 23 — Mountain View Gym, 18-1345A Volcano Road, Mountain View.

Jan. 24 — West Hawaii Civic Center Community Hale, 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway, building G, Kailua-Kona.

Jan. 27 — Pahoa Neighborhood Center, 15-3022 Kauhale St., Pahoa.

Jan. 28 — Kohala Intergenerational Center, 54-382 Kamehameha Park Road, Kapaau.

Jan. 30 — Laupahoehoe Point Gym, 36-1041 Laupahoehoe Point Road, Laupahoehoe.

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Visit hawaiizerowaste.org for future closure information and locations, or call the Solid Waste Division office, at 961-8270.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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