EXCLUSIVE: Health department investigates illegal dumping at Punaluu ranch

EXCLUSIVE: Health department investigates illegal dumping at Punaluu ranch

PUNALUU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department is investigating reports of truckloads of construction waste being illegally dumped at a ranch site in Punaluu.

The case began when a whistle blower who asked not to be identified hired a private investigator to fly in a helicopter to follow a large truck that loaded up with construction waste at the Island Recycling scrap metal processing facility at Campbell Industrial Park on Feb. 19.

The helicopter photos showed the truck traveling through residential areas in Hauula and Punaluu uncovered and then turning onto Puhuli street and driving into the Tradewinds Ranch and dumping its contents. A whistle blower submitted the photos to the state Health Department, prompting an investigation.

"We weren't aware of it and it is leaving our property ASAP," said David Thielen, owner of the 30-acre ranch.

Thielen, who is not related to Kailua State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, said he is filling in some old shrimp ponds to turn them into cow and horse pastures, so he's receiving tons of soil from several locations.

"We didn't ask for it, we didn't accept it," Thielen said. "The people came in and went through the gate and dumped it on the side next to where I have the topsoil stored and you can't tell from a distance that that was any different."

Thielen said a state Health Department investigator inspected four truckloads of construction waste and told him to remove them, because they must be properly disposed of at private construction landfill in Nanakuli.

Sources said a whistle blower ran tests on some of the material, which found unsafe levels of lead and mercury and passed the results on to state health officials.

"They weren't told they could drop it at my property," Thielen said. "They did it illegally. We're allowing them to take it. We're not prosecuting at this time."

A spokesman for Island Recycling, where the waste originated, according to Thielen, did not return Hawaii News Now's calls for comment.

Thielen said the trucking company that dropped off the construction waste, which he declined to name, will remove all of it Wednesday morning. He said the removal of the material will be videotaped and documented for the state Health Department.

Janice Okubo, a state Health Department spokeswoman, said "DOH is unable to provide information on our follow-up of the complaint at this time because the issue may be related to litigation or an ongoing legal case"

"The department follows up on all complaints by contacting various sources, reviewing images and records, and conducting site visits," Okubo said. "Investigative activities conducted by DOH are confidential until notices of findings and violations are issued to the responsible parties."

The Punaluu site has grading and stockpiling permits from the city of Honolulu to "restore farm land to original condition by filling in unused Ag ponds."  But the site does not have a solid waste landfill permit from the state Department of Health.  The only legal landfills on Oahu are the city's landfill and a private construction landfill, both located in Nanakuli.

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