There has been a lot of talk recently about the John Smith Landfill and the fact that San Benito County accepts garbage from Santa Clara County. As the President of the San Benito County Business Council and a former County Supervisor who was involved in the negotiation of the current landfill operating agreement and the proposed expansion, I wanted to write to clarify some of the misinformation I have been seeing and explain why we need the landfill as well as support the proposed expansion.
Established in 1968, the John Smith Landfill is a vital asset and infrastructure for our community and our region. San Benito County does not generate enough volume to substantiate a third-party operations contract and we are not equipped to manage and operate the landfill locally. Being in this position, the Board of Supervisors in the 1990’s had a choice – either we would have to close the landfill and create a transfer station, or we would need to seek out an operator and start accepting garbage from other counties.
The first option would mean that the taxpayers of San Benito County would need to pay for the closure (+ 30 years post-closure monitoring) and maintenance costs of the landfill, the remediation of the City of Hollister’s Class I site, and the construction of a new transfer station. On top of all that, the San Benito taxpayers would also be forced to pay whatever rate an out-of-county landfill would charge to take our relatively low volume, as well as pay for the transportation costs.
The second option would mean the operator would assume all of the costs, liabilities and expenses associated with running the landfill. In exchange for being allowed to operate the landfill, the operator would share the revenue generated with the county. It should be obvious what decision the board made and why they made it, however, just to make sure the choice is crystal clear: On the one hand, the county taxpayers would need to spend a significant amount of money. On the other hand, the taxpayers not only don’t have to spend the money, the landfill is actually making money for the county – an ongoing challenge for our small, rural county.
The contracts with Waste Solutions to operate the landfill have been unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors multiple times in public hearings. I personally played a pivotal role in the last contract negotiation and am proud of our accomplishments to increase the county’s revenue share, benefits to our community, finance the impacts of the landfill and stabilize rates for our residents and businesses.
As a former county supervisor, as well as with the Business Council Executive Committee and membership, we’ve done a tremendous amount of research and found that many local jurisdictions don’t have positive relationships with their landfill operators. Waste Solutions is a professional, solid operating partner and I believe they are the best suited company for the county, residents and the overwhelming number of local, small businesses.
We are fortunate to have such an exceptional partner, who is, in my experience, much better than other private-sector operators. They are helping remediate historic environmental issues that transpired long before taking over landfill operations, including remediating the former City of Hollister Class I site. If your concerns center around the environmental impacts of the landfill, you should know that it is unlikely that we ever remediate the Class I site without the operator.
Additionally, if there is ever damage caused by the landfill, you would want to have someone to hold accountable. The reality is without approving the expansion, the taxpayers of San Benito County would be the ones on the hook for this remediation. Having the operator to assume the responsibility and liability for the remediation of the Class I site is a huge win for our county, community and the environment.
I also currently serve as the Board President of the San Benito County Business Council. Established in 2002, the Business Council is a 501 C 6 non-profit organization comprised of more than 45 businesses, municipal, non-profit and community agencies, representing more than 2,500 employees in San Benito County and throughout the Monterey Bay region.
Many of the landfill opponents, while well-intended, are unfamiliar with and/or dismissive of the facts, history and value of this community asset and critical infrastructure for our residents and local businesses. They are spreading misinformation and perpetuating myths.
If the landfill cuts off out-of-county garbage, it would close within fifteen years. Closing the landfill would not fix any of the issues the opponents are raising. The roads will continue to get pot-holes – other industries drive heavy trucks on Fairview and McCloskey roads regularly – only now there will be substantially less revenue to fix them. The landfill and the Class I site will still be there, only now the taxpayer will bear the cost and liability of monitoring and clean-up costs. The result would be the taxpayer bearing the cost, with controversies of siting and constructing one or more waste transfer stations. On top of all of this, exporting our trash to Marina or Gonzales would likely more than double waste fees for residents and small local businesses such as contractors and landscapers. One final point is that creating a transfer station would dramatically increase the traffic on local roads as well as Highways 101 and 156 through San Juan Bautista.
The debate about expanding our Landfill and accepting out-of-county garbage really boils down to a simple choice. Either we accept out-of-county garbage and reap all of the benefits or we cut off out-of-county garbage, pay substantially more and lose the income for critical county services and infrastructure repairs. I encourage all residents to learn more about our John Smith Road Landfill and the benefits it brings to our community, as they substantially outweigh any negative impacts.
Jim Gillio, president of the San Benito County Business Council and Former San Benito County Supervisor, with the San Benito County Business Council Executive Committee Members: Graham Mackie, Scott Fuller, Damon Felice, Keith Severson, Lisa Ludovici and Bill Lee.