Digging up Trouble
Irregularities surface as more ordnance is unearthed in the landfill
By Léo Azambuja
For the second week in a row Molokai Landfill was shut down temporarily. The omen had already been put forth by environmental watchdog Carrol Cox a week earlier: “There is a great potential there will be other ordnance there.”
The landfill was shut down last week on Tuesday and Wednesday after more unexploded artillery was found there. Once more an army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit came from Oahu to access the situation.
But the burden of not having a place to dump trash for a couple days seems tiny if compared with possible legal violations. The county, the army, and private contractors may have set themselves up for hefty fines if found not in compliance with the law.
According to State law, illegal dumpers can be tagged with fines up to $10,000 a day. The fines aggravate if the violation was intentional; those who “knowingly dispose of solid waste equal to or greater than one cubic yard and less than 10 cubic yards” can be fined up to $25,000 a day.
It gets worse: “It is a class C felony offense to knowingly dispose of solid waste equal to or greater than 10 cubic yards anywhere other than a permitted solid waste management system without the written approval of the Director of the Department of Health.”
The State Department of Health (DOH) Deputy Director for environmental health, Laurence Lau, said the landfill should not be receiving ordnance or other hazardous materials because it does not have a permit to treat or dispose of hazardous waste.
State law says that fines may be levied on the generator of the waste, even if they hired someone else to dispose the waste. Property owners and managers, contractors, haulers, and developers can also be fined, according to the law.
Lt. Col. Violeta Strong, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) public affairs officer, said the army did not come to Molokai to clean up the ordnance, but to identify it. The EOD unit that came to Molokai operates under the 8th TSC.
“It’s not a matter of cleaning it up,” Strong said. “We have already taken care of transporting for disposal.”
The stage has already been set for an investigation. There is available documentation, including contracts and receipts showing parties involved.
DOH Communications Director Janice Okubo said the DOH has authority to enforce penalties against the military. “We have in the past … done enforcement action against all of the military services for issues on Oahu and other islands,” she said.
Okubo said the State also has authority to fine the county. But she said the investigation is not a quick process. “It’s going to take some time to determine if there is a responsible party.”
But even if a responsible party is determined, fines may be different than what was previously stated. “A lot of times we go into mediation and decide to do something that is acceptable and doable for both parties,” Okubo said.
Often times companies found not in compliance with the law are required to do remediation projects benefiting the community, Okubo said.
“But we are doing an investigation on the incident on Molokai,” Okubo said. “The focus right now is to make sure the landfill itself is safe for the public to use.”
The explosion set off by the EOD unit in the first week of the dump closure proved to be another issue. Several residents heard the explosion on Molokai, as far as east as Kaunakakai, and west as Ho`olehua.
The media chief at U.S. Army public affairs, Les Ozawa, downplayed the explosion. “I wouldn’t call it an explosion,” he said. Ozawa said the EOD unit found materials in the ordnance which “appeared to be unsafe.” To be safe, Ozawa said the EOD unit “set up charges, but it’s not like they call it dangerous.”
Not everyone was convinced. Retired marine Roland Cabanting was driving his truck in Ho`olehua, and felt the concussion when the EOD unit detonated the ordnances. His wife said he went into shell-shock, and pulled over to the side of the road. “I lost it,” Cabanting said. “It’s good my wife controlled me.”
U`i Cabanting, Roland’s wife, was upset about it. “They detonated (the ordnances) without public notice,” she said. “They don’t even consider the war-time vets.”
The army is required to notify the State, according to Okubo. “But in terms of notifying the residents there, that is probably something that the county needs to work out with the military,” she said.
Okubo said it would make sense for the army to coordinate a public notice with the county. “They need to do something like that for the public,” she said.
Strong said the army is not responsible for a public notice. “We are not involved in that part,” she said. “We are involved in responding to the request of state and local officials.”
Maui County Public Information Officer Mahina Martin was doing her best to find out from the county administration more information about protocol regarding public notice on detonations.
“No one seemed to be really clear because they pretty much follow the EOD and the DOH,” she said. “And have left it up to them.”
At the same time, Martin said she was concerned that the detonation may have affected some residents on Molokai. “I’ll continue to look into it,” she said.
Kawika Crivello, Maui County environmental services officer on Molokai, said the army inspected the ordnance pieces, “one by one,” and concluded no ordnance was live. “They found basically scrap metal,” he said. “According to the military it’s no hazard to the community.”
As far as public notice on the detonation, Crivello said the county administration, based on Maui, needs to do a better job in communicating with residents. Crivello said he always shares this concern with the county administration during meetings.
The ordnances found at the dump may have created some nuisance, to say the least, to some residents. But the mess might have brought some good. Crivello said the rules at the landfill regarding waste disposal are going to be much stricter.
“Nothing is coming in unchecked,” Crivello said. “There’s going to be a lot of protocol.”
Crivello said there are fresh faces and new rules at the landfill. “We are getting all the old stuff out, we’re going to basically start all over again,” he said. “A lot of it is to take ownership of our landfill.”
The county operates the landfill, but subcontracts the scale house to Maui Disposal. Crivello said that when the workers of Maui Disposal received the ordnance in 2004, they checked the paperwork attached to it and thought it was ok to receive it. “By no means was it their fault,” Crivello said.