WatchSonoma Watch

Effort to reopen Sonoma County landfill advances


Sonoma County’s plans to permanently reopen and expand its central landfill cleared a major hurdle Thursday, receiving a go-ahead from North Coast water regulators.

The decision approving a permit for up to 22 more years of operation at the Mecham Road site west of Cotati came from the same state agency that nearly a decade ago raised pollution concerns that triggered a five-year closure of the landfill.

“This thing has gone around the mountain a couple of times,” said David Noren, chairman of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “This puts us on a (new) footing with moving forward, to let the past be the past.”

Sonoma County Central Landfill (PD File).

Sonoma County Central Landfill (PD File).

The decision came over the objections of some neighbors, who voiced concerns about groundwater contamination, noise and traffic.

Design plans and requirements called for under the expansion should protect against such impacts, county consultants and water regulators said.

Susan Klassen, the county’s top public works official, hailed the approval as a “huge step” toward full-scale resumption of in-county waste disposal.

The landfill was closed in 2005 over water pollution concerns. It was nearly sold in 2009 to an Arizona waste processor, a hotly disputed move rejected at the last minute in a dramatic split vote by the Board of Supervisors.

It has been open on an interim basis since late 2010 with a limited capacity to accept local garbage.

A separate go-ahead for a full reopening came last year from the state agency overseeing refuse services.

Next up is a series of county and city decisions geared toward extending current private operations of the landfill and county waste transfer stations for up to 30 years.

The proposed arrangement is with Republic Services, the same Arizona firm that was in line to buy the landfill, and the Ratto Group of Companies, the county’s dominant waste hauler. It is aimed at offloading up to $65 million in development costs, stabilizing garbage rates, increasing recycling programs and paying off roughly $100 milllion in county and city liabilities for closure and post-closure upkeep of the central landfill and seven former dumps.

The master agreement is set to come to the Board of Supervisors in mid- to late April and is being called one of the biggest business deals in county history, with an estimated lifetime value of $1.2 billion, according to one former county waste official.

Environmental groups and other interests that opposed the landfill sale have largely endorsed the deal. County labor leaders have voiced objections, seeing it as another move to outsource public services.

Final contract documents are due out in a couple of weeks.

Thursday’s deliberations by water regulators were mostly about construction, monitoring and reporting requirements to protect surface and ground-water resources.

The permit covers operations over 165 acres. Expansion is planned within about 33 acres.

Neighbors said they did not welcome an enlarged landfill.

“I would just like to see it held up until we see what the outcome is going to be,” said Roger Larsen, a resident of the nearby Happy Acres subdivision.

But regulators said studies found no significant unmitigated environmental impacts would result from the landfill. They called the safeguards, including a double drainage and waste liner system that exceeds state standards, “robust.”

“We know a lot. We’re comfortable with what we know and we’re going to learn more,” Diana Henrioulle, a senior engineer for the North Coast water agency said of the state’s oversight.

5 Responses to “Effort to reopen Sonoma County landfill advances”

  1. Reality Check says:

    Given that the BoS is unwilling to go to taxpayers for the money needed to properly reopen the landfill, what alternative do they other than find a private company willing to pony up the money?

    Of course the company wants a monopoly. I don’t think we can expect them to spend the millions of dollars it will cost to rehabilitate this site and then watch business go elsewhere because rates are a little high. Of course they will be. That’s what happens when we let our infrastructure decline as Sonoma County is now doing.

    The money saved from postponing infrastructure maintenance will be paid, and more, by the next generation.

  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I would think the PD would write a story about this contract with Republic and Ratto. Republic has multiple environmental violations and has had multiple lawsuits across the country for all kinds of violations that they’ve lost. They’ve also been dinged for hiring untrained illegal aliens in other states.

    This contract is worth billions over the course of the contract. Methane production and recycling is lucrative these days.

    There needs to be independent oversight. My understanding is that Republic has already violated at our county landfill. Yet the BOS has CHOSEN this company for a a long term contract.

  3. Independent Oversight?? says:

    I am hoping that the Supervisors will include a completely independent ratepayer protector, in the form of fully independent annual audits of Republic’s and Ratto’s charges to the public.

    As I understand, there has not been any independent, experienced ratepayer advocate involved throughout the negotiation of these contracts.

    There are huge amounts of money to be made in payments from ratepayers to Republic and Ratto in this monopoly contract. But there are no checks and balances that strongly protect garbage ratepayers, including the cities.

    Given standard practices in the industry, the failure of the Supervisors to use a fully competitive bidding process for the privatization of the operations, and the lack of independent ratepayer advocates, we can fully expect ratepayers to be gouged in the long haul.

    While Republic and Ratto should be paid a reasonable rate of return (profit), they should not be allowed to either overcharge ratepayers, nor not be paid enough to sustain their business and good performance in operations.

    I’ve been involved in several large monopoly utility privatization efforts, and know what good oversight looks like.

    I await demonstration by the Supervisors that these monopoly contracts are not just for the convenience of Republic and Ratto, but are designed and implemented to serve all of our communities, especially the ratepayers who will finance this deal.

  4. Reality Check says:

    It is an outrage that this supposedly green county disposes its garbage by sending 65 trucks each day to a landfill 95 miles away in Solano County. But then, California’s green image is a mirage behind which is a policy that outsources manufacturing and other “dirty” niceties of life to other states and other countries. We want cheap gasoline, but please put the oil wells in someone else’s backyard.

  5. Grapevines says:

    I say open it and move the BOS offices and chambers to it. For all the good they do, it would be a fitting location.

    Perhaps they could engineer a bike path leading there also.