The expression says everything. Keep in mind this isn’t a paparazzi shot, or one of MauiTime‘s snarky shots–this is an official County of Maui photo of Stewart Stant, taken on Dec. 16, 2015, at his swearing-in as the county’s new director of the Department of Environmental Management. Then again, if I was going to start running a department that had devastated its own recycling operations, can’t even pick up the trash on a consistent basis, gotten busted by the feds for spending years injecting wastewater into the ground in Lahaina–actions which devastated the coral reefs off North Beach–was staking everything on a giant waste-to-energy project that seems to be stalled, I’d look that way, too.
Stant, a manager at the county’s Wastewater Division, is replacing Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza, who resigned earlier this month to take a job at Hawaii Gas (Mike Miyamoto, the department’s Deputy Director and theoretically next in line to replace Ginoza, is going somewhere else–county officials haven’t yet said where).
“Stewart is all about hard work, and it pleases me to know that he will be applying that work ethic to run one of our most important departments,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa in a Dec. 16 news release. “Kyle did a fantastic job for
us and we all wish him well on his latest endeavor, but I know we will be in good hands with Stewart.”
I guess Mayor Arakawa and I will have to disagree over the meaning of the phrase “fantastic job.” In the spring of 2013, the county decreed that it would shut down all its recycling centers. That’s all–no warning, no discussion. Don’t worry, county officials said–the private sector can handle things, and the future waste-to-energy plant will make recycling obsolete anyway. But residents did worry. And they started screaming. Soon, Arakawa back-tracked.
For the county’s waste-to-energy project to work, it’s got to be cheaper than other alternatives, like getting people to recycle plastics, paper goods and green waste. And that’s the official line out of the county. They say recycling programs like the “3-Can” experiment in South Maui–another recycling effort the county decided to shut down, then reversed course after residents cried foul–are just too expensive, especially when compared to a big waste-to-energy facility that would simply burn everything (you can read all about the WTE project here).
But what if recycling wasn’t so expensive? What if county Recycling Coordinator Hana Steel had produced a spreadsheet way back in August 2013–obtained by Mauitime–that showed the costs associated with 3-Can were actually negligible? Of course, county officials like Miyamoto say the spreadsheet wasn’t “complete” and isn’t legit, but Steel also wouldn’t comment for this story. That’s because she’s been on paid leave since July 2014. That’s right–for the last year and a half or so, the County of Maui has paid Steel to stay home. And since it’s a “personnel issue,” officials won’t explain why.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Tracy Takamine, the former Solid Waste division chief who oversaw Steel, is also suing the county, alleging wrongful termination. A passionate supporter of the county’s recycling efforts, he was sacked in 2013, around the time Arakawa said he was shutting down all the recycling centers. Court records say it was over the way Takamine attempted to discipline an employee, but Takamine disputed that. Again, his termination was a “personnel issue” and not something county officials will comment on.
In any case, the county’s Recycling Section employed five people just a couple years ago. Today it employs just one.
This is the department Stewart Stant is taking over. These are the priorities he must now push. I’d wish him luck, but he’s going to need far more than that if he’s going to succeed in a meaningful way.
ADDENDUM: A day after I posted the above (on Dec. 17), County Communications Director Rod Antone emailed me the following statement:
“Go to a map of the United States, close your eyes, drop your finger and whatever town you land on, look em up and find out if they have a recycling division in their city, county, municipality,” Antone wrote. “(You might have to do this several times.) Ask to talk to someone in charge and ask them how much it costs to do whatever it is they do to recycle. Then ask them if they could do the same thing if they were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
That’s the county’s response to my reporting on recycling. Not to dispute my reporting on how they’ve decimated the recycling section or to explain why it was necessary to put Hana Steel on paid leave for 18 months, but to offer a completely bogus request that implies that recycling is just too expensive out here.
Yes, recycling is expensive here. But who’s to say it has to be this expensive? Three years ago, the county first awarded the contract for its recycling drop boxes to Aloha Glass Recycling, then yanked it after Maui Disposal protested over the contract’s wording (the county then awarded it to Maui Disposal). In a Feb. 27, 2014 letter to now-sidelined Hana Steel that MauiTime recently obtained, Aloha Recycling President Thomas D. Reed insists that his company would have managed the dropbox contract for far less than Maui Disposal.
“Our original bid for this program was considerable less than Maui Disposal’s bid even after their original bid was negotiated downward by 50%” Reed wrote. “During 2013 the County paid Maui Disposal $406K for processing dropbox material alone. If Aloha Recycling had the contract the cost would have been $149K.”
Perhaps, perhaps not. But the county didn’t let Aloha rebid the contract, so I guess we’ll never know.
Photo courtesy County of Maui