Federal Judge Forces Hawaiian Garbage to Stay on the Island

If you fly into Honolulu and smell something a little rancid in the air, this is why. Bales of garbage from Hawaii were supposed to be arriving in Washington state, bound for a landfill near the Columbia River, Nina Shapiro reported earlier this week. But yesterday a federal judge in Spokane blocked shipment of the garbage for a month pending the outcome of a hearing Aug. 30 on whether or not to ban the trash for even longer.

Seattle-based Hawaiian Waste Systems appeared to be at the end of a years-long process to allow the company to import and dispose of garbage from the islands. The plan is opposed by the Yakama Nation and environmental groups who worry that the garbage, which is wrapped in plastic, or rodents coming in with the refuse will negatively impact the land and water around the landfill.

"Since time immemorial and continuing to this day, Yakama citizens fish for species like salmon, sturgeon, sucker and eel along the Columbia River and other tributaries near the Landfill," the tribe states in a 61-page lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday. The tribe also claims that it was not given adequate opportunity to weigh in on the decision to bring the garbage to a landfill bordering its land.

The lawsuit asks the court to keep the garbage out of Washington until a more thorough study is done on the potential environmental impacts of the garbage and the tribe has more input on if and how the garbage is brought to the mainland. On Aug. 30, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether or not the garbage should be allowed to come into the state before the lawsuit itself is resolved, a process that could take years.

Spokane judge Edward Shea ruled that the garbage has to stay out at least until that first hearing. "[T]here are serious questions relating to whether the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] adequately analyzed the environmental impacts of shipment and receipt of Hawaiian waste into the mainland," Shea wrote in his order.

Hawaiian Waste Systems did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but company president Mike Chutz told the Star Advertiser he is disappointed. "It's a difficult situation. ... We're just a small company that has to sit and wait," he said.

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