Date: January 11, 2010
Source: News Room
Shipments of Hawaii garbage to WA hit a snag
A plan to send Honolulu garbage to central Washington through Longview and other lower Columbia River ports has run aground in the federal bureaucracy, but it's likely only a temporary delay, according to sources involved.
By ANDRE STEPANKOWSKY
The Daily News
LONGVIEW, Wash. — A plan to send Honolulu garbage to central Washington through Longview and other lower Columbia River ports has run aground in the federal bureaucracy, but it's likely only a temporary delay, according to sources involved.
Seattle-based Hawaiian Waste Systems had expected to start importing the waste last fall, but getting an amendment to its federal permit has taken much longer than expected, said Jim Hodge, chief executive for Hawaiian Waste Systems.
The company originally intended to barge the trash all the way to the Roosevelt Landfill in Central Washington, but unloading wastes onto trains and trucks at Lower Columbia ports - Longview, Rainier or Vancouver - saves four to five days shipping time, Hodge said.
Under the plan, bales of compacted, shrink-wrapped garbage would arrive in the Lower Columbia region in sealed containers about once a month.
Switching transportation plans requires approval from the Animal and Plant Inspection Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. APIS, as it's known, is in charge of preventing the spread of plant and animal disease as well as the spread of nonnative species.
APIS had previously approved Hawaiian Waste Systems' plan to barge the garbage all the way to Roosevelt. When he filed to amend the transportation plan in June, Hodge said, he thought the company would have clearance by fall.
It wasn't until three weeks ago that APIS told Hodge it wants another environmental assessment of the plan and will submit it to a 30-day public comment period - even though the packaging of the waste won't change, just the mode of transportation.
Hodge is frustrated by the length of the process, saying he first sought APIS approval for the garbage import plan in 2004. Now, the company's $12 million waste processing plant - which compacts waste and bales it in airtight plastic - is getting waste ready for shipment and he can't move it.
A Honolulu TV station reported recently that 300 tons of baled garbage is stacked up on the docks in the harbor and awaiting shipment in containers to the Pacific Northwest, and officials there are concerned that it could become a health problem.
"I never dreamed this would be a holdup. We really thought we would be shipping in November or early December," said Hodge, adding that the delay is "stressing" his finances.
He noted the new comment period is the sixth time the project has been submitted to public review.
"We're all perplexed. This shouldn't take this much time."
In a phone interview from the APIS regional office in Sacramento, Calif., spokesman Larry Hawkins defended the agency decision to require another environmental assessment.
"We want to do our due diligence ... so that the residents of Washington and Oregon can feel confident (the waste transfer) can be done without posing an environmental risk."
He said shipping waste through rail or truck is not the same as barging it upriver, he said.
"There is the chance that not everything goes perfectly. If not everything goes perfectly, what is at risk? Is there some environmental consequence if they have some kind of mishap?"
The agency would have put out a call for public comment sooner, Hawkins said, but it was awaiting further information from Hodge's company, which it did not get until November.
He said APIS will start the public comment period "in a matter of days or weeks," declining to be more specific. The office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, which has been working with Hodge on the matter, told The Daily News APIS will start the comment period this week.
How soon the company receives its new permit - known as a compliance agreement - will depend on what concerns, if any, arise during the public comment period, Hawkins said.
"There may be no comment or hundreds," though no major objections surfaced in earlier public comment periods, he said.
Hawkins said it would take about 60 days after the comment period begins to a compliance agreement to Hawaiian Waste System. That would mean the first barge of waste would arrive in the region in mid March - at the earliest.