The San Benito County Board of Supervisors is poised to approve rezoning 400 acres of agricultural rangeland for expansion of the John Smith Landfill. The proposed project is located on John Smith Road behind the Santana Ranch subdivision. The proposal seeks to expand the landfill from 95 acres to 483 acres and to allow up to 2,300 tons of waste daily for 50 years. 483 acres is pretty big. 2,300 tons is a lot. 50 years is a long time.
To help us along, Waste Solutions (WSG), which manages the site, has purchased the land for $7 million and will reimburse San Benito County for an expensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR). They are also going to deed the land over to San Benito county. So why are they investing so much? Only one hint: WSG will earn lots of money for 50 years. A big landfill is more profitable than a small landfill. Corporate managers have financial goals.
But why has the county bought into this proposed expansion? Again, it’s the money. Every load of out- of-county waste dumped in the landfill is cash for the county. In accordance with the contract, we need to receive out-of-county waste in order to receive revenue. And the greater the amount of out-of-county waste, the greater our percentage of gross revenue. There is no question that the county is chronically short of funds, however, it’s time for a sanity check on this project. The estimated income from the landfill is about $3 million per year, while the county budget is nearing $200 million. The income is only 1.5% of our budget. Is 1.5% worth the price we will pay over five decades for living with this project? I can’t believe our planners really have a feel for the magnitude of this project or the long-term effect on Hollister residents. It may look good on paper, but in real life it could become in the future our biggest problem.
When you get into the numbers it really starts to seem like an ill-conceived plan. Basically the county is proposing to make the landfill into a profit center. We will be running a trash business. We will be taking in huge amounts of waste from Santa Clara County. Less than 10% of the waste will be from San Benito County. The problem becomes clear when you look at the numbers. At full operation there would be 95 semi-truck loads from Santa Clara County every weekday and 34 on Saturday. That’s 190 trucks passing daily through Hollister coming and going. The only truck routes are horrible. Any way you go all these trucks pass through multiple stoplights and right by residences and schools. Residents will be exposed to vastly more diesel smoke, noise, and truck congestion than they now experience.
I would ask that the planners and county supervisors imagine for a moment that they are standing at the intersection in front of Rancho Santana School. Stay there all day long and watch 190 semi-trucks go by. That’s one truck every 2 minutes. Half of them get stopped by a red light and growl and smoke as they get going again. Now stay there for 40-50 years counting trucks. Nice experience? Think about the people living in Sunnyslope Village, Santana Ranch, or the children on the playground. There are houses within 50 feet of the stoplights.
Next think about the landfill. How many people really know how big 483 acres is? It’s just a small outline on a map. Again I ask the planners and supervisors to imagine how it feels. Start walking around the outside of the proposed site. It will be over 3.5 miles around. If you walk
fast you might make it around in 1 ½ hours. Inside will be a mountain.
The draft EIR of over 400 pages attempts to understand and mitigate all the environmental impacts of the project and on the surface it covers the obvious issues such as odor, equipment noise, traffic turn lanes, aquifer contamination, landfill gases, scenic vistas, loss of habitat, etc. However, the true effect of increased truck traffic on nearby residents and traffic flow was basically ignored.
Again, we should step back from all these details and do a sanity check. 2,300 tons of waste a day is 11,500 tons per week, 575,000 tons per year, and 25 million tons over 40-50 years. How much is 25 million tons? Sorry, it’s beyond my comprehension. It’s just a lot! Do we really want to leave to our children 25 million tons of waste at the edge of our town behind Santana Ranch? Will there be aquifer contamination? We’ll know in 20 years. Will there be health problems from the landfill or the semi-trucks. We’ll know in 20 years.
I’m afraid the financial and human price we will pay over time for having a mega-landfill next to our town will far outweigh the income the county hopes to earn. I understand that many professional people have worked hard on this project, but it is not too late to change course. I urge the planners and supervisors to rethink the scope of this project and give us a reasonable alternative that will serve our residents without degrading our quality of life and jeopardizing our health. Hollister residents need to speak up. Send your concerns to the board of supervisors at email@example.com.