Monday, December 04, 2006

Potrero Hills Landfill Saga Continues on Many Fronts

Potrero Hills Landfill Saga Continues on Many Fronts
By Barry Eberling

Garbage trucks travel to and from the entrance to Potrero Hills Landfill off Highway 12 near Suisun City. (Gary Goldsmith/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - Potrero Hills Landfill owners continue trying on several fronts to make the dump near Suisun City taller and wider to serve the region's growing trash disposal needs.

And opponents who fear a bigger dump means traffic woes and damage to nearby Suisun Marsh remain busy, too.

Hearings before two public agencies and a court decisions are all coming up during the next few months. A recent draft scientific report says the dump owners should do more to help nature before increasing the dump's size.

Larry Burch of Potrero Hills Landfill on Wednesday expressed hope that, when all is said and done, the dump can begin its expansion this summer.

Meanwhile, the group Citizens Against the Dump Expansion remains determined to stop what members call a "Super Dump" that is filling up quickly because it serves communities far beyond Solano County.

"It's going to be stopped one way or the other," said Dwight Acey of the group. "We're not concerned about that."

Potrero Hills Landfill is located a few miles south of Suisun City, in hills above Suisun Marsh. The owners, Florida-based Republic Services Inc., say the dump will fill up in 2011 unless expanded on grazing land in a valley.

Plans call for increasing the dump's width from 320 acres to 580 acres and its maximum permitted elevation from 220 feet to 345 feet. Then it could go on accepting trash from Fairfield, Suisun City, Rio Vista - and other communities within 150 miles - for an estimated additional 35 years.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors a year ago approved the expansion plan. But that didn't end the controversy.

Opponents appealed the county's approval to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission on the grounds a bigger dump could hurt Suisun Marsh. Suisun Marsh is the largest contiguous estuarine marsh on the West Coast.

BCDC in February commissioned a team of experts to give their opinions. The dump's existing, Solano County-approved plans to make up for habitat lost to the expansion are wanting, the scientific team found.

"Mitigation measures are weighted too heavily toward wetland habitats, focusing mainly on the California tiger salamander, and too little toward grassland habitat and birds," one section of the draft report says.

Yet another section says more must be done to help the rare tiger salamander.

Potrero Hills Landfill owners are open to doing more mitigation - to a point.

"It depends on how much the more is," Burch said, adding nothing he's seen so far from the scientific team is so onerous as to put the project in jeopardy.

It's unclear when BCDC will make its decision. Staff member Jennifer Feinberg said no date is set. Burch expressed hoped for a January 2007 hearing, though Feinberg said that's unlikely.

BCDC has the option of saying the bigger dump is inconsistent with marsh protection laws and cannot be mitigated. Dump opponents want the commission to go that route.

Meanwhile, a coalition has sued to stop the dump expansion. Members include June Guidotti, who lives next to the dump, and Northern California Recycling Association.

Solano County Superior Court Judge Paul Beeman on Oct. 20 heard the case. Attorney Amber Vierling, who represents the plaintiffs, recently said her side must file a 10-page brief by Tuesday. She expects a decision sometime in the first part of 2007.

Dump owners want to start expanding the dump this summer even though Potrero Hills Landfill has room to keep taking trash through 2011. Moving onto the additional property would allow the creation of a broader base while raising the elevation, creating a more stable landfill, Burch said.

Plus, Burch said, parts of the existing landfill could be allowed to stand dormant for five years. The landfill could settle five to 10 feet, gaining that much more space, he said.

On yet another front, Potrero Hills Landfill owners are trying to get a state permit to make some changes at the existing dump. The California Integrated Waste Management Board will hold a hearing on Thursday.

Potrero Hills Landfill has withdrawn one of the more controversial parts of the application.

No longer is it asking at this time to raise the maximum elevation of the existing dump from 220 feet to 310 feet. Opponents said this could stress the underground dump liner that keeps contaminates from leaching into groundwater.

"That caused a lot of confusion," Burch said. "We postponed that with the state."

Instead, dump owners could raise the elevation when and if they get the permits for the bigger expansion - the one that would allow a maximum 345-foot-elevation on the second, 260-acre phase. Or they could ask for the change at the existing dump at another time.

Dump owners are still asking the state for other changes to the existing operations.

Among them is that recyclable materials no longer count against the trash tonnage limit of 3,400 tons a day, averaged over seven days. Removing recyclable materials from the limit could allow the dump to take an additional 615 tons of trash a day.

Rio Vista resident Lorraine McGee still opposes the requests before the waste board on Thursday, even with the height increase being put off for now.

She expressed concerns about traffic. The dump is limited to 1,000 truck trips daily. But McGee thinks haulers may simply use bigger trucks to bring more garbage, should recyclable materials no longer count against the daily trash limits.

Integrated Waste Management Board staff has expressed its own concerns about the Potrero Hills requests. Among them is the dump's 14 violations of state standards since 2002. Violations range from inadequate litter control to lack of proper site supervision.

If there's one embarrassing part about the landfill, it is that some litter blows away on the windy days, Burch said. Dump owners have tried to solve the problem, he said.

"It's really difficult to control the plastic bags," Burch told a state waste board subcommittee at an Oct. 10 hearing.

Owners also want to operate the dump 24 hours a day on weekdays, instead of 20 hours.

"We're trying to get the trucks in during the nighttime, so they're not sitting in the traffic idling and polluting," Burch said.

But the dump's location near Suisun Marsh and Suisun City continues to generate controversy. The battle over the Potrero Hills expansion continues on many fronts.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

What Potrero Hills Landfill wants

-Increase size of dump from 320 acres to 580 acres. The sections of the dump where garbage is piled would increase from 190 acres to 340 acres. Trash capacity would quadruple from 21.5 million cubic yards to 83.1 million cubic yards.

-Increase the maximum elevation from 220 feet above sea level to 345 feet.

-Relocate Spring Channel Creek to allow for greater buttressing of dump's southern edge.

-Apply tonnage limits only to trash buried in the dump, not recyclable materials.

-Operate 24 hours daily on weekdays.

-Build a power plant fueled by dump gasses.

-Compost treated sewage sludge. Compost could be used for erosion control and the landfill cap.

Source: Solano County

Upcoming hearings

-California Integrated Waste Management Board subcommittee on Monday will make a recommendation on proposed operating changes at the existing dump. It meets at 10 a.m. in the Cal EPA, building 1001 I St., second floor, Sacramento.

-The California Integrated Waste Management Board on Thursday could vote on operating changes at the existing dump. It meets at 9:30 a.m. at the Cal EPA building in Sacramento.

-The Bay Conservation and Development Commission will rule on issuing a marsh permit for both proposed operating changes and the horizontal and vertical expansions of the dump. The commission has yet to set a date.

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