Dump Expansion Plans on Hold
By Barry Eberling
SAN FRANCISCO - The plan to expand the Potrero Hills Landfill warrants further scrutiny, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission decided Thursday.
The commission heard 10 appeals claiming the expansion plans violate Suisun Marsh protection laws. The Solano County Board of Supervisors in September voted 3-2 to grant a marsh development permit for the project, prompting the appeals. The dump is located in grassy hills that are included in the marsh buffer zone.
The commission could have dismissed the appeals outright, ending the matter. Instead, it ruled the appeals raise substantial issues and voided the county-issued marsh permit. It will hold a hearing Feb. 2, 2006, to decide whether the expansion can go forward as proposed.
Opponents raised 55 points of contention in their appeals. Not all of the points connected with him, said Commissioner Eric Carruthers, who represents Santa Clara County.
"Enough did to convince me there's a substantial issue," Carruthers said. "I do not know what the resolution might be."
Commissioner Larry Goldzband also decided there are substantial issues, but described it as a close call. Goldzband of PG&E is an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He questioned whether a 27-member commission with appointees by various agencies can act with more wisdom than Solano County elected officials.
Suisun Marsh protection laws allow for a dump in the Potrero Hills, but only if the dump doesn't cause significant aesthetic or ecological harm. The dump serves Fairfield, Suisun City and various other communities within about 150 miles.
The private owner, Republic Services Inc., says the existing dump will fill up in 8 to 10 years. Expanding it from 320 acres to 580 acres could extend the lifespan an additional 35 years. Republic Services also wants to do such things as build a power plant powered by dump gasses.
The decision to take a look at the expansion came by an 18-0 vote, with one commissioner abstaining. Eight members were absent from the afternoon meeting at the San Francisco Ferry Building. Solano County's representatives - Supervisor Barbara Kondylis and the alternate, Supervisor John Silva - were absent.
Arthur Feinstein addressed the commission on behalf of one of the appellants.
More than 200 acres of grassland habitat would be lost to the expansion, he said. A bigger dump would also relocate a segment of Spring Branch Creek. Such actions violate marsh protection laws, he said.
"It's absolutely clear: Don't do it unless there is no impact," Feinstein said.
Larry Burch of Potrero Hills Landfill said the dump has operated for 19 years without hurting the marsh. The expansion involves the same soils and geology, the same trash volumes and the same people, he said.
"What's happened to have people lose faith?" he said. "We think that loss of confidence is something we don't deserve."
Potrero Hills Landfill will preserve and improve 654 acres of adjacent habitat, he said.
One part of the marsh protection law allows for the dump expansion, Goldzband said. Another part as interpreted by commissino staff does not allow for it, he said.
In February the regional commission will decide how to resolve the issue.
Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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