Monday, September 19, 2011


MRF-FREE'S LAW: There's a sure way to get our blood boiling- mention solid waste and Kaua`i county government in the same sentence.

Back in the early-mid 90's, when the term "zero-waste" was just a'bornin', Dr. Ray Chuan, activist extraordinaire, used to walk into the council chambers each week with stacks of papers and during the interstitial periods, start pawing through them.

Of course we couldn't resist looking over his shoulder and so much to our amazement we and eventually the rest of the "nitpickers" became experts on the last thing in which we wanted to stick our noses- literally or figuratively... trash.

It didn't take a genius to see that the costliest- and stupidest- thing that could be done was to dig a hole in the ground and bury valuable materials rather than recycle them. The solution was- and is- to make it as easy for folks to separate them out of their yucky trash, pick them up curbside and bring them to a place to separate them for shipment, as many places on the mainland were already either doing or planning to do at the time.

Now more than 15 years later and three administrations later Kaua`i not only doesn't have a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) but, according to the local newspaper- albeit buried mid-way through an article- Mayor Bernard Carvalho has no real plans to build one, making recycling as haphazard and costly as possible.

It's not like the money to plan and build a MRF hasn't been appropriated by the council at least four time we can think of since the turn of the century. Every single bond float- and restructuring of bonds- has included money for the facility which needs to be the first thing that is done in either a "zero-waste" program or the "integrated solid waste" strategy the county has embraced.

It has also been included in almost every capital improvement budget since then to no avail. If we didn't know better we'd think there was no one who knew how to both build a large warehouse and kick back money to the Department of Public Works' Solid Waste Division and the various mayors.

The article is, as usual when penned by Leo Azambuja, fairly useless in explaining why the heck a MRF is not in Carvalho's budget this year, preferring to concentrate on the reasons why the council refused to waste money by continuing to pay our state senator's brother an exorbitant rate to separate a small amount of curbside recycled materials, recovered through a now-canceled "pilot project."

It's just another textbook example of the county's "ready, fire, aim" modus operandi.

But further, the article fails to point out the massive costs of dumping most of our recyclable goods in our overflowing landfill to the point where some have suggested "mining" the old cells, not just to recover the materials discarded over the years but to open up space so as to delay for as long as decades the need to site a new one that nobody wants in their backyard anyway.

Instead Carvalho is still adamant about siting the MRF in the area in which he is proposing to put the new landfill even though planning and permitting for the dump could be a decade away. That means that in Carvalho's mind we will keep on doing what's wrong as long as we can, falling further behind the rest of the world in solid waste management.

Meanwhile the cart is not just before the horse, it's rolling down an endless hill and gathering speed with no equine activity on the horizon.

Of course if the planning and design had been done years ago the county might have even had the whole shebang paid for by the federal government when the they were looking for "shovel ready" public works projects a couple of years back- as they may be doing again next year.

Carvalho seems to have no trouble acting on a dime when it comes to hiring another suck-up crony to fill another new administration position. But when it comes to capital improvement projects the bungling seems almost intentional.

The old "is it incompetence or is in malfeasance?" question was seemingly made for the last three mayors. But the more Carvalho's administrative skills are on display, the more we have to believe it's the latter more than the former.

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