The chamber room was filled with two groups totaling 45 people: one group consisted of stakeholders in the landfill expansion and the other group, of about 20 people, were residents. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
The chamber room was filled with two groups totaling 45 people: one group consisted of stakeholders in the landfill expansion and the other group, of about 20 people, were residents. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

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Water supply, groundwater, landfill liners and unavoidable impacts were discussed at the San Benito County Planning Commission special meeting Oct. 27 for the public hearing on the John Smith Road Landfill expansion project.

Located at 2650 John Smith Road, the landfill currently sits at 90 acres. The proposed project aims to expand the 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. 

The chamber room was filled with two groups totaling 45 people: one group consisted of stakeholders in the landfill expansion and the other group, of about 20 people, were residents.

Signs reading “Don’t Dump on San Benito” lined the chairs and sat in empty seats in the room.   

The meeting was the second of three meetings scheduled to discuss the proposed landfill expansion before the planning commission approves or denies the environmental impact report. 

Presentations from county staff and Waste Connections covered:

  • Mitigation measures and conditions of approval 
  • Significant and unavoidable impacts, including greenhouse gasses and aesthetics 
  • Odor and lighting 
  • Groundwater, water supply and landfill liners
  • Economic analysis

Richard Grassetti from Grassetti Environmental Consulting covered the significant, unavoidable impacts the proposed project would pose, which include aesthetics, greenhouse gas emissions and cumulative air quality. 

The expansion would create larger landfill mounds that would be visible from John Smith Road and from Highway 25 at Best Road at full buildout, Grassetti said. 

Greenhouse gas emissions would be another significant, unavoidable impact from the proposed expansion, Grassetti said. He added there will be a net increase in greenhouse gasses emissions coming from landfill gasses and haul trucks compared to a zero net emissions. 

Grassetti said there are mitigation measures in place such as EV charging stations, converting on-site equipment to electric and renewable energy.

Sangeeta Lewis, a principal engineer with Lewis Engineering, spoke about the landfill liners, groundwater and water supply.

She said the  liner is buried and not exposed to UV rays, which can deteriorate the liners. If not exposed, liners can last 100 to 400 years, she said. 

“Personally, I have had no experience with any leakage from the liners landfill that I’ve worked on,” Lewis added. 

Next, she spoke about possible leachate contamination.

“The groundwater monitoring data shows that arsenic and manganese exist in both the on-site and off-site wells around the landfill. And that there’s not an increase in arsenic and manganese from the landfill,” Lewis said, answering concerns some have raised in the past by residents about arsenic and manganese contamination.

There is groundwater protection, Lewis said. 

Liners are inserted to protect groundwater as well as constant monitoring, she said. Additionally, the applicant, the landfill, will be required to “maintain financial assurance for any corrective action.”

Curt Fujii, an engineer with Waste Connections, further explained the landfill’s liner system. 

“It is a very sound, reliable technique,” Fujii said about finding any leachate through the liner system.

Fujii repeated what Lewis said: the landfill would be regulated by state and local agencies including CalRecycle, the Regional Water Quality Board and the Monterey Bay Air Resources District; there would be groundwater monitoring; leachate collection and control and monitoring the landfill gas, collection and control.

Commissioner Robert Scagliotti asked if all the wells in the area are monitored for arsenic or manganese.

“What I explained was that there was no indication that there was a difference,” Lewis answered. “Within the plume area, arsenic and manganese is natural to the area.” 

Presenters also went over county revenue with and without the expansion, transfer station estimated curbside rates and alternative compost options. 

If the project is approved, the county will receive a landfill depletion fee depending on tonnage:

  • 16% of gross revenue if daily tonnage is 1,000 tons or less
  • 18% of gross revenue if daily tonnage is between 1,001 to 1,250 tons
  • 22% of gross revenue if daily tonnage is between 1,251 to 1,500 tons
  • 27% of gross revenue if daily tonnage is between 1,500 tons

If the project is not expanded, the landfill depletion fee will decrease by $0.90 per ton in December, Lewis said.

In 2022, the county’s landfill depletion fee revenue was $513,800, Lewis said. She added curbside rates would increase by about $4 with a transfer station.

Thirteen speakers spoke against the expansion.

Robert Thorp, a county resident, said the commissioners failed to ask the presenters about the liner system. The liners are 60 mils, a measurement that equals one-thousandth of an inch, he said. 

“Do you guys know how thick that is? We have the experts here,” he pointed to the presenters and consultants. “That’s two credit cards,” he said. 

“The main defense from anything going in that dump to get into the soil is two credit cards thickness over 400 acres,” Thorp said. “That’s insane.” He then pulled out two credit cards showing them to the commissioners and crowd. 

Consultants, engineers nor commissioners commented on the thickness of the liner. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Resource and Conservation and Recovery Act, 60 mils is the minimum thickness for a high density polyethylene liner for new municipal landfills.  

Kent Gordon, a landowner in Santa Ana Valley, said if the expansion project is approved his family and grandchildren would be able to see the landfill expansion from their backyard. 

“It’s not going to be a remote, invisible project to me,” Gordon said. “It’s going to be something I see everyday.”

He added that Santa Ana Valley residents are very unhappy about the landfill proposal.

“This is not something that, I think, is in scale with the needs of the county,” he said. “I think it’s a gigantic, titanic overreach.” 

Two spoke in favor of the expansion. 

Kristina Chavez Wyatt, a county resident said she works with the San Benito County Business Council who support the expansion.    

“The state is not approving any new landfills if our landfill closes, there’s no turning back,” Wyatt said and added that rates, economic and environmental costs of alternative plans to the expansion are uncertain and would cause “dramatically more traffic and climate impacts.

She said expanding the landfill could bring revenue toward improving roads, public safety, the recycling market development zone and address litter and illegal dumping.

Elia Salinas said: “I just want the commission to take into consideration that when folks come up here and they speak against it [the expansion], so far, I have only seen their own biased opinion, but it’s not based on facts, I mean, arsenic is natural and now instead of arsenic I think something else is being blamed…” 

Salinas also asked that funds from the proposed expansion go toward a road fund rather than the general plan, because the county “has been known to take general funds and even though they were earmarked under the general fund, they went to something else…”

She also recommended that if a transfer station was considered that the county look at west San Benito County.

One speaker said he was not sure if the expansion was a good or bad idea.

“I believe that this can either make us or break us, commission,” Zachary Headley said. 

Headley later told BenitoLink that he sees the benefits of expanding or not expanding the landfill.

“Whether we expand or not, the decision will bankrupt this county or it will make this county one of the richest counties in California,” he said. He continued to say that the money the county could receive from out-of-county for the expansion could bring money for the library or education. 

“If we do this right, we can be very wealthy,” Headley said.

The Planning Commission will host its third meeting on the landfill expansion Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. and will cover:

  • Staff will address any remaining questions and provide any requested revisions for consideration
  • Planning Commission deliberations and vote
  • Any remaining public comments will be addressed

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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,...