Molokai Landfill Under Fire

Mismanagement causes dump to shut down temporarily

By Léo Azambuja

Molokai Landfill shut down last week Monday after an independent contractor came across more than100 pieces of unexploded military ordnance while removing scrap metal from the landfill.

On Wednesday an army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit from Oahu cleared the artillery from the landfill and exploded it in a private quarry. The landfill reopened Thursday.

The State Department of Health (DOH) Deputy Director for the Environmental Health Administration, Laurence Lau, said “the landfill should not be receiving ordnance or other hazardous materials.” Molokai Landfill does not “have a permit to treat or dispose hazardous waste,” he said. 

Even before the ordnance was discovered, Molokai Landfill administration ran into trouble. Maui County and the landfill have been under scrutiny because of alleged mismanagement. Issues include improper disposal of heavy metal and old car batteries.

DOH Communications Director Janice Okubo said Maui County was having difficulties in finding a contractor that could clear the scrap metal in the landfill.

Schnitzer Steel Hawaii, the company in charge of clearing the scrap metal, won a county bid last February to remove and recycle scrap metal from the landfill.

“We were happy that they (Schnitzer Steel) are taking this action to clear away all that metal,” Okubo said. “But I guess that one of the results was that they found that ordnance there.”

Environmental watchdog Carroll Cox said that in 2004, American Technological Institute (ATC) was hired by the army to clean up the ordnance from the Papohaku Ranchland Bombing Target, on West Molokai.

Cox provided copies of a document showing ATC hired Boswell Trucking to remove “scrap and/or explosive contaminated metal” from Papohaku. The document states the ordnance was “removed and properly disposed of at the Molokai Landfill on February 27, 2004.”

Gordon Naoele, who owns Makoa Trucking, said he bought Boswell Trucking in 2002. He said he changed his company’s name in 2004.

Naoele said ATC was responsible for the clean up. He said he was hired to pick up the cargo, transport it to the landfill and dump it there. Naoele said ATC assured him they “were going to take care of everything, make sure it was not explosive, everything was going to be scrap metal.”

A receipt, also provided by Cox, showed signatures from a Papohaku Bombing Target senior supervisor and from a quality control specialist certifying that 19,000 lbs of metal scrap residue were properly inspected, and  were inert and/or free of explosives or related materials.

Cox said Maui County is “littered” with solid waste mismanagement. He said Molokai Landfill is operating without a permit for at least ten years. When the old landfill closed down it was also running improperly, according to him.

Okubo denied that the landfill was operating without a permit. She said the landfill is operating under the old landfill permit while a new application is being processed. Meanwhile, the landfill has to comply with all of the old permit requirements, Okubo said. She wasn’t able to say how long the application process would take.

Okubo said the DOH had been focusing on Maui, where the county built the Phase IV landfill without a permit. She said the DOH took enforcement action and required Maui County to pay a fine. “They now have an active permit,” Okubo said.

Okubo said since most of the problems on Maui have been solved, “the focus has been on Molokai Landfill and clearing away all the scrap metal piles.”

Cox was skeptical that all the ordnance would be cleared from the landfill. He said that when the ordnance was delivered to the landfill, an attendant told the truckers where to dump it. A bulldozer then spread the ordnance and covered it, according to Cox. “There’s a great potential that there will be other unexploded ordnance there,” he said.

Apparently, the ordnance disposal was old news to some Molokai residents. Building contractor Lloyd Inouye said he visited the dump with his son only a few days after the ordnance was dumped there. “There was a big container there, the doors were open and there was stuff (military ordnance) all over the place,” he said.

Inouye described the pieces pouring out of the container as old artillery looking like World War II ammunition.

Inouye said it’s common to see garbage in Molokai waters from Army training. He said he has been to some spots in the ocean, in chest-high waters, and found disposed pieces of artillery.  


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