The Landfill Frustration And Panic

Certain words strike terror in Honolulu hearts. Some of these words refer to places, others to things, still others to things in certain places.

Let me begin with a phrase that raises my blood pressure a good 20 points: “the Middle Street merge.” Oh, not at its mere mention – only a five point spike when heard, say, while watching Dan Cooke give the morning drive guide report from my living room couch in Pearl City.

But on Thursday afternoons, sometime between 4 and 5 p.m., I drive to Manoa to perform my duties as the moderator of a PBS public affairs program. It’s usually a straight shot from the Pearl City on-ramp to the H1 freeway to the town side of Red Hill.

In the stretch in front of Moanalua Park, however, my apprehension mounts, my palms sweat, the back of neck tightens. For up ahead, where Fort Shafter traffic exits the freeway, the telltale sign of a horrific commute can occasionally be seen. Not always. Not usually. But sometimes.

On most Thursdays, I make the freeway curve at the ewa end of Shafter and almost immediately, there they are, always, every Thursday: the glowing brake lights of three solid lanes of inching traffic, a product of the dreaded “Middle Street merge”! There I, too, join the inch, an inch that will continue past the Bishop Museum, through downtown, never freeing up until the Punahou off-ramp.

I endure the horror of the “Middle Street merge” but once a week, for I live a mere 10 minutes from my principal place of employment in Pearl City.

But my fellow West Oahuans, the majority of whom work or go to school in town, oh my. Every morning, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, they face the inch that begins at the “the Middle Street merge.” How do they deal with it? I’m not sure, but I assume through a combination of Bluetooth conversations, loud music and daily self-lobotomies.

And if they live farther west, in, say, Mililani or Ewa Beach, they deal with another horrifying aggregation of words: “the H1-H2 merge.” But, seldom having experienced it, I’ll leave a description of “the H1-H2 merge” to some Mililani blogger out there.

Another word that terrifies: “garbage.” No one, save for a few career members of the United Public Workers, loves the word “garbage.” “Garbage” has to be taken out each day. If it isn’t, it begins to smell. If, for whatever reason – an equipment malfunction, a work slowdown, a (God forbid) strike, garbage accumulates and concern changes to frustration and, then, panic.

Now, take “garbage,” multiply it times all the households east and west of Red Hill, add all the households north of the Koolaus, and you create the need for a place, the word for which strikes terror in every ZIP code on Oahu. You got it, dear reader, that word is “landfill.”

At the mere mention of the word “landfill,” otherwise rational, strong, courageous men and women rush into the streets, tearing their hair and screaming: “Not in my backyard! Not in my backyard! Oh please, dear mayor and City Council, not in my backyard!”

Early last week, it was the good people of Kailua who were rushing, tearing and screaming. The reason: A landfill commission had recently chosen Kailua as the No. 1 site for relocating the city’s “garbage” dump.

To which Kailua’s City Councilman Ikaika Anderson replied, “Eeeeeeeks! Not in our backyard!”

Then miraculously, late last week it was announced that a mistake had been made: The best new landfill sites were farther north on the Windward side. Kailuans sighed; Kahukuans screamed.