Landfill expansion plan faces critical vote

October 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
One of the biggest dumps in the Northern California is fighting to get a lot bigger and it is facing a critical vote Thursday. The Potrero Hills Landfill is in Solano County right near the Suisun Marsh -- a critical wetlands home to three endangered species. The landfill owner wants to expand; environmentalists would like to see it shut down.

The Potrero Hills Landfill will take in 600-700 tons of garbage this year from all over Northern California. The amount of trash is actually down because of the poor economy and increased recycling.

Even so the dump is running out of space.

"What we want to do here is expand the landfill to last for another 30-35 years," landfill spokesperson Jim Dunbar said.

Two years ago, Solano County supervisors voted to let the landfill grow up to four times bigger than it is now.

But on the other side of the hill from the landfill is the Suisun Marsh, a sensitive wetland critical to the San Francisco Bay and delta eco-systems.

The marsh is an important stop for migrating birds and it is protected from development by law.

Environmentalists and recyclers are fighting the expansion.

"In today's environmentally conscious world, no dump like that would ever be allowed in this area," Sierra Club spokesperson Duane Kromm said. "So why are we allowing expansion of this dump?"

There has been a flurry of lawsuits with appeals still pending. Wednesday, the powerful San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission is scheduled to vote on the expansion.

The commission staff is recommending it be approved.

"They believe our expansion project meets the policies and laws of their commission and satisfies environmental requirements that were put on us," Dunbar said.

Potrero Hills has agreed to some changes, including a lower height limit and the preservation of about 1,000 acres of land around the dump.

"Never have we had any documented incidents of contamination of the marsh," Dunbar said.

But environmentalists are disappointed.

"A mile of creek that flows into Suisun Marsh that provides water for the endangered delta smelt, they want to put that into a pipe a mile long and they are saying there is no ecological impact of putting a stream into a pipe and turning a rich valley into a hill of garbage," wildlife consultant Arthur Feinstein said.

Even if the commission approves the plan there are more legal hurdles. The biggest may be Measure E, approved by Solano County voters 26 years ago. It limited the amount of trash that could be brought in from outside the county.

But officials did not enforce it, so Potrero Hills has been taking in five to ten times more garbage than Measure E allowed.

Last May, a judge told Solano County it had to start enforcing the garbage limit but the county is appealing.

Solano County has a big financial stake in the future of all that garbage at Potrero Hills. It brings in about $4 million a year in taxes.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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