Toxic Landfill

by Nick Welsh

After much hand-wringing and second-guessing, the county Board of Supervisors agreed to allow as many as 150 dump trucks per day to rumble through Guadalupe to the Santa Maria landfill, where they will dump as many as one million cubic yards of polluted soil from the nation’s biggest oil spill. Critics were on-hand in large measure to decry the lack of public process and to warn that if the soil is too contaminated to remain on the Guadalupe Dunes — where it now is — then it’s also too polluted to dump in Santa Maria’s unlined landfill. Santa Maria city officials endorsed the plan because it would bring in millions of dollars in dump fees, plus provide the infill soil needed to cap a landfill that state officials have been desperately trying to shut down. State and city officials insist that special protective liners will be placed in the landfill before the soil. But some critics contend state water-quality officials had to relax their usual safety standards to approve the plan.

Others complained the plan — which they said equals one truck trip every three minutes for five years — never received adequate review by county officials or residents. That’s because the plan, and environmental review, took place in San Luis Obispo County, where the contaminated soil originates. The soil contamination resulted from Guadalupe’s historic underground oil spill involving chemical thinners, which took place during a 40-year period. According to some estimates, that spill is the largest in the nation’s history. “It’s the largest oil spill in the history of this country, and this county allowed it [860,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil] to go in here without an Environmental Impact Report,” complained Tom Gibbons, one of the activists trying to derail the plan. Supervisor Joe Centeno — who represents the area — expressed anguish at the lack of public notice and input, but like all the supervisors, he agreed there was little the county could do. What had been submitted to the board for consideration was an agreement with the City of Santa Maria regarding what routes the trucks would take, not the entire project.

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