People Fight the Power
Gonzales community group alleges trash-zapping plant process violates civil rights.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
The effects of a proposed garbage gasification plant that would generate power from trash has electrified Gonzales activists. Asamblea de Poder Popular plans to file civil rights complaints alleging the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority hasn’t given non-English speakers fair opportunity to weigh in.
According to complaints to be filed with the state Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil rights: “SVSWA unlawfully and intentionally discriminated against Spanish-speaking residents.”
In January 2011, SVSWA’s board approved plans to further study a proposal by Ottawa, Canada-based Plasco to build a $100-150 million plant that would use intensely high heat to transform trash into energy. The project is now in the environmental scoping phase.
The complaints come after about a year of protests on an environmental justice platform. This new tack, though, focuses on process.
Asamblea allegations include a shortage of Spanish translation headsets at public meetings and a meeting time conflicting with Ash Wednesday services. The group says a Feb. 28 closed meeting on the plant’s environmental impacts should have been public.
“Are you serious?” asks Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, in an email to SVWSA Diversion Manager Susan Warner. “Are you claiming this public meeting organized by a public agency is closed to the public?”
SVSWA General Manager Patrick Mathews says the agency has spent $6,000 renting headsets and exceeded translation requirements, but monolingual residents snagged headsets, leading to the shortage. “We’re at the top of the list of trying to reach out to the community,” he says.