Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Suisun Estuary threatened by Potrero Hills "superdump" landfill
"Court ruling dumped in landfill expansion fight; Lower court ruling reversed in favor of landfill operator"
2014-04-30 by Ryan Chalk for "The Reporter" [http://www.thereporter.com/news/ci_25673431/court-ruling-dumped-landfill-expansion-fight]:
A state appellate court this week reversed a Solano County Superior Court judge's earlier ruling in favor of operators for Potrero Hills landfill, who for years have been battling in court over a proposed expansion effort.
The unanimous ruling out of the state Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, could clear the path for landfill operators to move forward with a planned expansion. Potrero Hills Landfill, which sits outside of Fairfield near the Suisun Marsh, had received permits for the proposed expansion, but saw those plans halted when environmental groups brought forth lawsuits.
According to the appellate court ruling, the expansion, as proposed in 2003, would allow an increase in fill height and also add 260 acres of adjoining property to the site — extending the life of the landfill another 35 years.
Environmental impacts were addressed, notably the requirement to alter a portion of an intermittent watercourse, called Spring Branch. In 2005, Solano County officials certified an environmental impact report (EIR) and issued a use permit and marsh development permit for the proposed expansion, but those were challenged by environmentalists in court.
This led to alternatives being brought forth by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission for smaller expansions and no impact to Spring Branch, although landfill operators, and the commission, acknowledged that some of the alternatives would not be economically viable, according to the court ruling.
In 2010, a modified marsh development permit allowed for replacement of portions of Spring Branch but placed a cap on the height of the landfill at 220 feet above sea level.
According to the court ruling, the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF) filed a writ claiming that the commission's determination that there were no reasonable alternatives that would preserve Spring Branch was not supported by substantial evidence.
In 2012, a Solano County Superior Court judge sided with SPRAWLDEF.
The appellate court ruling, however, stated, "In this case, the commission had an adequate record before it to fairly determine the smaller alternatives were not economically reasonable."
"Ultimately, the commission stated it had reviewed all the 'information available to it, the information and statements made by (Waste Connections, Inc.) in response to staff requests to evaluate the feasibility of a smaller landfill expansion project, and the information provided in the draft EIR that with mitigation measures, diverting Spring Branch...would not have a significant environmental impact on surface water quality,' and concluded, 'restricting the project to avoid Spring Branch...is not a reasonable alternative,'" the appellate court document went on to state.
Jim Dunbar, manager of Potrero Hills Landfill, said the ruling will allow Potrero Hills to move forward with its original expansion as it was proposed a little more than a decade ago.
"It really is the last piece of the puzzle," Dunbar said.
In a statement, landfill officials said that they have worked closely for many years with the commission, Solano County and other state and federal agencies to ensure the Potrero Hills meets high environmental standards.
"This means that we don't have to change course. We can continue with the plan we started," Dunbar said.