COMMENT: Some dirty questions about potential landfill expansion

Joel Buckingham writes to ask some questions about the proposal to expand the John Smith Landfill.

This review was written by resident Joel Buckingham. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all members of the community to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the upper right corner of our homepage and agreeing to follow our Terms of useyou can write counter-opinions or share your views on current issues.

Sometime ago there was an article in BenitoLink arguing for the expansion of John Smith Landfill by former supervisor Jim Gillio. This article has led me to many questions that I wish I had answered as landfill expansion is contemplated.

The first question I want to answer is, how do other small counties do it? The letter made it seem like a county our size simply couldn’t handle its own landfill. However, our county has approximately 70,000 inhabitants and is very spread out geographically. Small counties like Lassen somehow manage to have a landfill in the county and operate their own landfill, with about half the population. How come they manage to do it, when we can’t? Yet the letter indicates that we are too small a county to manage and operate the landfill locally. How can this be the case? Is it because we are unwilling to pay for a ministry to manage the landfill? Is it cost prohibitive? What is the cost?

According to the John Smith Landfill Expansion FAQ, provided by Waste Connections (the expansion proponent), out-of-county waste generates $1.2 million in annual revenue for the county. Has anyone thought how paltry this sum is? Suppose there are 5,000 households in this county, if each household paid an additional $20 per month for garbage, this would cover the entire revenue generated by the county ($20 X 12 months X 5,000 households = 1, $2 million). According to county information, out-of-county landfill traffic has caused $14.1 million in road damage and further requires ongoing additional maintenance costs. How can this be a good deal?

Is it worth $20/month to increase the landfill size by 388 acres? How big is 388 acres? 388 acres is larger than the size of the entire Hollister airport at just 343 acres. And why? We’re told it’s to “optimize the asset” of the landfill. What if it was the bad construction of the question? Certainly, Waste Connections views landfill as an “asset” to be “optimized,” and so landfill should instead be viewed as a liability to be minimized. This does not mean that the landfill is not useful to the community, but we are left or better said our descendants are left forever with this trash. Don’t we love San Benito enough to say that we in San Benito can be responsible for taking care of our own waste, but Santa Clara must do the same?

Waste Connections tells us in their online FAQ discussing the revenue the county receives includes “ownership of the additional 388 acres acquired by WSG for $7 million will be transferred to the county at no cost to the county.” Do we want to end up “owning” this potential future Superfund site? Why do we want to “own” all of this? What does it even mean to “own” a landfill site? Doesn’t that sound more like “being responsible in the future?” And if so, then why should the “asset optimizing” organization be responsible for the landfill in the future.

We are told that if we don’t expand the landfill, it will close in 15 years. Why isn’t it possible to expand the landfill in 14 years by a much smaller amount that will continue the landfill to only accept county waste? It seems that if we could increase the landfill by 388 acres today, there would be no reason why we couldn’t increase it by 38 acres, roughly the size of San Benito High School, in 14 years. Is the size of the expansion being sought because the operator recognizes that this may be the last opportunity they have to expand the landfill before the community realizes it is a bad deal for the community?

We are told that if liability arises at the discharge, we benefit because we would have “someone to hold accountable”. Didn’t experience tell us that what would happen is the landfill would be operated for 30 years, during this time the owning company would pay dividends and income, the owners would receive a current benefit , then, when the liability would arise, the a company that had paid most of its earnings over the years would then file for bankruptcy renegotiating the terms of its liability, much like PG&E, and we, the community, remain on the hook?

We are told that we benefit from out-of-county trash removal as it lowers our rates. But is this really the case? If the cost of handling our garbage is a certain amount, say $80/month, but we get a $20/month discount for taking the garbage out of the county, who is really paying that $20/month? Isn’t it true that it’s not Silicon Valley, they pay 28$/ton while we pay 45$/ton, they are rather our descendants? We get a discount today, but our children will pay in the future. It seems like a complete reversal of our current responsibility, which is to pay our expenses for the waste we produce today. It doesn’t really seem to lower our rates, it just steals some value from our children.

To be honest, I’m not fully familiar with all the landfill issues, but I’m very hesitant, and instead of saying people are spreading misinformation because they’re very hesitant to accept a bunch of garbage from the outside the county, we can try to make sure that all questions are answered and that in fact everything we do is truly the best for our community and the future of our community. I want to thank the Board of Supervisors for recently voting to reject a transfer station at the landfill, certainly at a minimum the community should be more aware of what allowing a transfer station would even mean to the community. Reading the most recent article, it appears to have been a design to allow the landfill to continue to pull waste out of the county.

More than 10 years ago, a lot of e-waste was shipped to China, which was willing to accept hazardous waste to use the funds generated to support their industrialization, but they learned that the cost of accepting e-waste from Americans was not worth the revenue generated and so we had more problems with e-waste in the United States. Let’s learn from their experience, some things are worth more than money. If we incorrectly estimate the costs of expanding a landfill, we and we alone will end up with the tab.

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