The county’s Resource Management Agency held a town hall presentation and workshop Aug. 22 at the Veterans Memorial building in Hollister to inform the public about the John Smith Road Landfill expansion draft environmental impact report.
Steve Loupe, interim Resource Management Agency director, told BenitoLink that notices of the town hall were posted on the agency’s website, in social media and through news releases. Standard California Environmental Quality Act-mandated notifications were sent to those who live within 1,000 feet of the site. Additionally, he said nearly 2,000 notices were mailed to residents who live beyond the minimum distance, including those who live in Santana Ranch and Ridgemark. Sixty-six people attended the event.
The deadline to respond to the EIR was originally Aug. 29 but the San Benito County Board of Supervisors extended the deadline to Sept. 6. Response cards were furnished during the event for people to fill out, and emailed responses should be sent to county consultant Stan Ketchum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loupe said only 30 people sent in responses. Of the 15 he had read, he said, “I would encourage residents to be more specific, instead of just saying, ‘I don’t support the landfill expansion.’ It’s more beneficial if people add some specificity.”
Ketchum gave an overview of the EIR and encouraged attendees to visit the seven tables that explained various sections of the report.
County representatives, county consultants and representatives from landfill management company Waste Solutions explained the separate portions of the EIR, including the planning process, landfill expansion plan, biotics; cultural resources and aesthetics; litter control and recycling; community benefits and the landfill operating agreement; air quality/greenhouse gasses, noise, geology and soils; and hazardous materials; traffic and haul route alternatives; public services, water supply and water quality; habitat mitigation; project alternatives; regional waste disposal and rates.
Ketchum said Waste Solutions hired consultants to write the EIR, then the county hired another consulting firm to conduct an independent “peer review” of the report. He said Waste Solutions filed two applications to expand the landfill: one to amend the county’s general plan to allow the expansion. The second application was a conditional use permit to bring the expansion project into compliance with the county’s zoning ordinance.
He said after the comment closing date and subsequent changes are made, a final EIR will be reviewed by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, who will make a decision on a General Plan amendment.
Ketchum said specific changes to the landfill would include its expansion from 95.16 acres to 483.21 acres. The waste footprint would increase from 58 acres to 310.74 acres. It would increase in altitude from 920 feet to 949 feet, which would make the landfill higher than the surrounding hills. The tonnage of waste would also increase from 1,000 tons to a potential 2,300 tons per day (TPD).
There are alternatives regarding the tonnage in relation to the size of the landfill. The first is to do nothing and let the landfill remain at its current size. Other alternatives are dubious, according to opponents of the expansion. The choices are: 1,700 TPD with the same 95-acre footprint; 1,700 TPD with a reduced footprint; 1,000 TPD, with the same footprint; 1,000 TPD with a reduced footprint; 300 TPD, with the same footprint; opening a second landfill across the street on the 101 acres owned by the county; or transforming the entire landfill to a transfer station where waste would be brought only to be hauled to an as yet unknown landfill in another county.
Of this last choice, San Juan Bautista Councilman John Freeman said the people who are saying “Don’t dump in San Benito” should know that two-thirds of the county’s recyclable waste is already transported out of the county.
“How can we say ‘no’ to other counties, and yet we send our waste out there,” he said. “All the recyclables go to Marina. All of our compost recycling goes to Gilroy Organics.”
With the increased waste, there will be an increase in methane gas and carbon dioxide. Currently these gasses are burned off at an on-site “flare,” but if the expansion happens, a collection facility will be built on-site to draw 92% of the gasses from wells, then scrubbed of impurities, said Ralph Hirshberg, a consultant who wrote the EIR. Then the gas, which has been brought up to PG&E standards, will be transported through a new pipeline to an existing 36-inch pipeline a mile from the site and sold to PG&E. The remaining 8% of gasses will be burned, as usual.
What most residents will see from the expansion is the increased number of 20-ton trucks passing through the county to the landfill. Currently they move through the county on Hwy 25 to Shore Road, then south on Fairview Road to John Smith Road out to the landfill. The proposed new route would be Hwy 25 to Wright Road, then east on McCloskey Road to Fairview Road, and then John Smith Road. An alternative route, and by far the worst idea to some, would be to stay on Hwy 25 through Hollister and across one of the busiest intersections at Hwy 25 and Sunnyslope Road, then either north on Fairview Road to John Smith Road or north on Best Road to John Smith Road.
Highway 25 is maintained by Caltrans, while the county maintains the other roads along the routes.
“I’m really interested in what the science says,” said Aromas resident Wayne Norton. “I probably go to the landfill once every two years and I don’t live near the landfill, so I don’t have the same questions other people have. But I care about the environment, so I want to know what it means for the geology; what’s it going to mean for our neighbors; what’s it going to mean for rates.”
Robert Connelly, a Santana Ranch resident, said his biggest concern was air quality and toxic waste, as well as truck traffic along Fairview Road. As for the possible routes to the landfill, he said it’s going to be a choice between the “least worst.”
“The worst-worst of all of them is through town by Safeway,” he said. “I don’t want it on Fairview, but that’s the only one that makes sense.”
Annette Perez, treasurer of Don’t Dump on San Benito, said residents could have gotten more information if the presentation had been opened up to questions rather than sending them to the tables.
“I would rather have an open forum so we could have heard each citizen’s concerns and get answers that everyone could hear,” she said. “Instead, it was separate tables, separate information and we had to be the ones to ask questions to get the answers.”
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