A line of vehicles awaiting at the entrance to the John Smith Road Landfill on Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Noe Magaña.
A line of vehicles awaiting at the entrance to the John Smith Road Landfill on Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Noe Magaña.

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The public comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report  for the John Smith Landfill Expansion Project reflect the concerns the community and local environmental groups have toward the proposed project. 

Located at 2650 John Smith Road, the project proposes to expand the existing 95-acre landfill by 388 acres for a total of 483 acres, and increase the landfill’s tonnage limit from 1,000 tons per day up to 2,300 tons per day. About 253 acres would be used for garbage, and the remaining would be used for roads, stormwater detention basins, open space and soil stockpiles. If approved, the landfill would reach capacity in 2087.

The landfill reached a 15-year of in-county waste capacity in April 2022, a threshold that required landfill operator Waste Solutions to stop accepting out-of-county waste.

The public review period for the draft environmental impact report opened July 15, 2022 and ended Sept. 6, 2022. Within 54 days, the public submitted over 90 responses about the project. 

A special meeting of the San Benito County Planning Commission will be held Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. to discuss the report.

The 540-page final report includes comments from the public, responses and changes made to the project, on issues including groundwater contamination, traffic, road conditions and community impact. BenitoLink reviewed only the comments submitted by the public. 

Groundwater contamination

Commenters claimed that groundwater contamination could occur because garbage or sewage could leak into the groundwater system. If the landfill is expanded, they argued there will be a greater chance of contamination. 

Agricultural production will be negatively impacted by the increased contamination, along with local communities that use the groundwater, commenters said. 

“The layer of waste is still leaching toxins,” said Shannon Allen, who added that when the landfill was first constructed in the 1960s there was no protective liner, which caused all waste to mix together. “Groundwater contamination from toxic waste is increasing and spreading to nearby communities, such as Heatherwood Estates and eventually Santana Ranch.”

In November 2022 Best Roads Mutual Water Company, which serves the Heatherwood, Fox Hills Estates and Fischer Subdivisions near the Landfill was awarded $2.2 million to construct a new water tank and consolidate the water system with the Sunnyslope Water District.

Other comments about groundwater claimed that the landfill’s runoff would greatly reduce the community’s water quality.

A general order requires the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to regulate and monitor the landfill, according to the report.

The expansion would include protective liners and so the report says the project is not expected to contribute to groundwater contamination. 

Additionally, to reduce leachate, the proposed project would include an expanded leachate collection and recovery system (LCRS):

  • A leachate drainage layer underneath the landfill to prevent buildup on top of the liner 
  • A pipe system to drain the leachate into sumps, a filtration system which collects water or chemicals

The bottom of the landfill containing the LCRS would be lined with a composite liner including:

  • A 12-inch soil layer to protect the LCRS and liner system from damage during waste placement
  • A geotextile separator fabric that will prevent soil from entering and clogging the LCRS
  • A high-density polyethylene geomembrane, a type of absorbent liner often used for pools, canals, embankments, landfills and tunnels

According to the report, the potential to affect groundwater quality is insignificant since major leakage through the liner system would be less than 0.1 gallons per acre per day. 

Traffic and road conditions

Some public comments claimed that the landfill expansion would result in more truck traffic, noise pollution and damage to roads caused by service trucks. 

“Hollister is a beautiful city surrounded by agriculture, farms and ranches. Please consider the detrimental impact this would have on our community and the wonderful people that live here,” Ruth Lundsten wrote in an email to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors.

Proposed truck route into and out of the John Smith Road Landfill expansion project. Photo from final EIR document.
Proposed truck route into and out of the John Smith Road Landfill expansion project. Photo from final EIR document.

In an email to the board, Dennis and Cathy Silva shared that they moved from San Jose to Hollister about 6 years ago because they wanted a break from city life. They settled in the Heatherwood Estates neighborhood, a four-minute drive to the existing landfill.

“We have had to deal with awful road conditions—heavy trucks moving back and forth, locals with pickup trucks and trailers piled high with debris, oftentimes both are scattering big and little bits of debris on the road,” they wrote.

According to the report, to avoid traffic near residential areas, intersections and a haul route will be established, involving a left-turn lane at the project’s entrance, and a stop sign at the project’s exit onto John Smith Road ahead of the opening of the new entrance.

The report also notes that, before accepting out-of-county waste, a restriping of the northbound left-turn lane to St. Benedict Lane would be required.

Further, within three years of the project’s approval or before reaching 1,000 tons per day of waste, the traffic signal at the southwest corner of Fairview Road and McCloskey Road would need to be relocated. 

Additionally, 10 feet of widened pavement at the southwest corner of Fairview Road and McCloskey Road would be installed to accommodate right turns from McCloskey Road to Fairview Road.

Finally, a haul route and speed limit signs would be installed before receiving out-of-county waste along the existing commercial vehicle haul route.

Impacts on the community

Monica Paciente, a resident of Santana Ranch expressed her concern about truck traffic and how it could impact her and her children, who attend Rancho Santana School. 

According to the report, the project would not increase existing traffic noise along Fairview Road by more than 0.8 decibels, therefore the noise levels would not increase or affect residents along Fairview Road or students at Rancho Santana School. 

Map of the John Smith Road Landfill Expansion project. Photo from Final EIR document.
Map of the John Smith Road Landfill Expansion project. Photo from Final EIR document.

Another concerned resident, Shannon Allen, said the project would have a “huge impact on our daily lives in many ways.”

A resident of the Heathwood Estates, Allen said she did not think the landfill would pose major issues when she and her family moved to the community about six years ago, she said. 

“As directly affected citizens of this proposal, we do not believe we should have to shoulder the responsibility of other county’s trash nor the mismanagement of city funds,” Allen wrote. 

The draft EIR states that the proposed project would not displace those living near the landfill. The final report states that there will be no effects on the county’s population or housing.

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Monserrat Solis covers San Benito County for BenitoLink as part of the California Local News Fellowship with UC Berkeley. A San Fernando Valley native, she's written for the Southern California News Group,...