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No Place for Metal

County tries to re-open Molokai’s metal recycling site.

Junk cars, old appliances and other scrap metal have been piling up in Molokai yards more than usual lately. After nearly seven months without a metal recycler to dispose of such material, Maui County officials have finally closed a second bid that seeks a new contractor to run the operation.

“Molokai needs this service,” said Gregg Kresge, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Management. “We’re working diligently to get this going – we ask that residents hold on a little longer.”

In its struggle to find a new contractor, the county had to open a bid twice – the first one in March, resulting in no interested applicants, and this last one in May. During this time, residents have had no alternative method to discard of metals.

“Luckily, we received a few bids this time around,” Kresge said of the second bid that closed on June 17. “It should take about two weeks to get them evaluated.”

The island’s sole metal recycler, located at the Molokai Landfill, was shut down by the county’s Solid Waste Division in December after the contractor exceeded the limit of items allowed on-site and could no longer stay in compliance with permit requirements.

Kresge said the county notified the Department of Health (DOH) to avoid fines of $25,000 per day, but could not ship off the extra material within the 30 days allotted, and therefore closed the site.

Rudy Cabanting, Molokai Landfill’s working supervisor, said many residents have asked him when the site will reopen. He expects it to remain closed until September.

Prior to its closure, the facility had been accepting junk vehicles, appliances, tires, propane tanks, car batteries and other metal goods. While a substantial amount of material accumulated over time, Cabanting said the former operator, Ray’s Rentals, has since removed all of it.

“Everything is out already,” Cabanting said. “We just cleaned up the last two rubbish piles.”

Bidding Jam
After two years of using an interim facility, the county completed construction of the permanent metal recycling site in March – the same month a bid went out for a new contractor.

“We put together a very detailed bid but got no responses,” Kresge said. “So we had to go back and re-work it.”

The county came back with a revised bid in May, one that would initiate “event-based collections” several times a year. Kresge said each collection event would give residents about two weeks to dispose of scrap metal, including commercial material and large farming equipment for a fee. At the end of the collection, the material would be shipped off island and recycled.

While it could be a few more months before the center is up and running, Kresge asks, in the meantime, for residents to hold on to their unwanted scraps.

Still, rubbish continues to grow in heaps on Molokai’s homestead lands, roadsides and open lots.

“I see some appliances near the corn field where Monsanto is,” Cabanting said. “Stuff is just piling up.”

Bobo Alcon, owner of Bobo’s Auto Service, said he had to find another lot to store junk cars because some are filling up quickly.

“The lot behind Midnite Inn is full of cars,” he said. “It’s a big inconvenience for the island. There’s even people who’ve been storing cars on their homesteads.”

Not Once, But Twice                                                                               While storing metal for the past seven months has been an inconvenience for Molokai residents, it hasn’t been the first time.

In February 2007, the county received a warning from the DOH for nearing the limits of accumulated material. The site was immediately shut down, which spurred a major clean up project of old school buses, tires and other large scraps. After about a year, the facility reopened, only to close again in December 2009.

Although it seems to be a reoccurring theme, Kresge said Molokai’s difficulty with keeping the sites open stems from the fluctuation of metal markets.

“When there’s a spike in the market, everyone wants to get into recycling,” he said. “But when there is less of a demand, the market can dive from $100 to $17 a ton – it happens really fast and people lose a lot of money.”

When it comes to these “spikes and dips,” Kresge said, it’s easier for bigger recycling companies to wade through the fluctuation because of their established base and can usually hold on to large stockpiles longer while adhering to the permit. Local vendors, however, have a much harder time because of monetary setbacks.

Cabanting agreed, adding that Molokai’s site had difficulty getting shipping containers on island – especially with the high prices of the containers and an increase in shipping costs.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Kresge said. “Lanai has had similar issues so we took an event-based approach and it worked – so maybe that’s what Molokai needs.”

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