Gonzales group fights proposed dump expansion.
Thursday, June 24, 1999
No one wants to make a salad from a head of lettuce grown in a field that''s just spitting distance from a fetid dump.
At least that''s the fear of dozens of Gonzales growers who''ve banded together to fight a proposal that would nearly double the size of the city''s landfill, a move that growers say would bring heaps of refuse far too close to fertile fields.
"A dump adjacent to where lettuce and broccoli and cauliflower grows, whether it''s a real risk or not, if it is perceived by our customers that there''s a possible contamination, we''ll be fighting an uphill battle trying to prove to our customers that our produce is safe," says John Culligan, a member of Citizens Against the Gonzales Dump Expansion, a group that doesn''t want to see the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority (SVSWA) expand the Johnson Canyon Road landfill.
The waste authority, which was formed in 1997 and charged with providing solid waste disposal for the cities of the Salinas Valley, says local landfills are filling up fast and that a landfill expansion will be needed soon.
The authority is considering expanding Gonzales'' Johnson Canyon Road landfill from its current 122 acres to 220, a move that opponents say would bring the dump''s barriers dangerously close to fertile farmland and raise farmers'' concerns that leakage would contaminate crops and fields.
"We''re getting a tremendous amount of pressure not only from the general public but also from federal regulations on whether the food products we grow are safe," says Gonzales resident Vic Lanini, a member of the citizens'' group and general manager of Salinas-based Bruce Church Inc., a lettuce grower and shipper with fields in the Gonzales area.
"All dumps leak, whether they have super-liners or whatever," Lanini says, "so we''re concerned about ground water. But they also have a tendency to attract seagulls and everything else. We don''t need that type of activity flying over our crops."
"There is no non-controversial landfill expansion," says SVSWA Operations Manager Steve Johnson. "The world is filled with ''NIMBYs''--those who say, ''Not in my backyard''."
Johnson is expected to present a "state of the authority message" to the SVSWA board of directors today in which he''ll ask trustees for direction on how to proceed with regional landfill expansion plans. Johnson says the agency will examine two sites for potential expansion, the Johnson Canyon site or the Jolon Road Landfill in King City.
In the long run, Johnson says the waste authority is looking to centralize disposal services into one major facility that would serve Salinas, Gonzales, Soledad, King City and Chualar, the North County cities of Prunedale and Royal Oaks, and unincorporated county areas.
The authority manages four landfills: the Crazy Horse Canyon Landfill near Salinas, the Lewis Road Disposal Landfill in North County, the Johnson Canyon Disposal Site in Gonzales and the Jolon Road Landfill in King City.
Crazy Horse, the Salinas Valley''s largest dump, which receives some 550 tons of trash every day, and Lewis Road, which receives about 60 tons of garbage each day, could be full by as early as 2004, Johnson says. Jolon Road, which receives about 60 tons each day, currently serves as a "transfer station" for trash that is sent on to Johnson Canyon. The site needs revised permits and a liner must be installed before it can accept any more trash, Johnson says.
In early planning stages, the waste authority suggested Johnson Canyon as "a politically and economically attractive alternative" for landfill expansion because it is centrally located in the Valley, which would make for cheaper trash-service fees, and lands adjacent to the dump could be purchased as buffers. Lanini, however, says the 1,200-acres of cattle-grazing land the authority would need to purchase is protected by the Williamson Act, an agricultural land preservation measure.
Culligan, who sits on the steering committee of Citizens Against the Gonzales Dump Expansion, which counts about 40 growers and Gonzales residents among its ranks, say the group is not anti-landfill. It just doesn''t think Johnson Canyon is the best site for the "super dump."
Growers are concerned about water contamination and landfill gas--a dump''s two most common side effects. In 1997, the waste authority paid $740,000 to buy landowner Richard Ripley''s property, which was adjacent to the Johnson Canyon dump and was contaminated by methane gas.
Johnson says the new landfill would be built with state-of-the-art safety technology, including a landfill gas treatment facility that renders methane harmless. Further, he says, today''s landfills require more environmental protection programs than they did in 1976, when Johnson Canyon was constructed.
"Next to airplanes, landfills are the most restricted things you can have," he says.
Safety issues aside, however, Gonzales city leaders have their own concerns about the expansion: The dump is on a hill in the eastern part of town, smack dab in the middle of land city leaders are eyeing for Gonzales'' future expansion.
"We''re between a rock and a hard spot," says City Manager Henry Hesling, "if they''re going to move that way, that''s the way we''re going, too."
The city isn''t the only entity looking to expand to the east. The Gonzales Unified School District wants to build a new middle or high school on 25 to 50 acres of land "down the road and across the street" from the dump, says Gordon Piffero, the district''s director of administrative services.
"If it expands, we have real concerns," Piffero says, including potential runoff and added traffic the landfill will bring.
Johnson, however, says the authority has yet to decide which landfill will be expanded. He said the agency will probably conduct Environmental Impact Reports on both prospective expansion sites--Johnson Canyon and Jolon Road--before deciding which will be selected.
In the meantime, he says, Johnson Canyon Road landfill won''t be full for at least another 17 years, and the authority will continue to dump trash there as long as it can.
"Regardless of what we do, we''re going to be there another 17 years," he says, "and we intend to be a good neighbor."