Contaminated Sands Appeal Rejected

by Nick Welsh

The California Coastal Commission unanimously rejected an appeal filed by four Santa Maria residents against a plan to dispose of two million tons of contaminated sands from Unocal’s former oil fields near the Guadalupe dunes in San Luis Obispo County to the Santa Maria landfill, located about 100 yards from the Santa Maria River. The appellants complained that they’d never been given a chance to comment on the Environmental Impact Report prepared for the shipment of sand — 100 to 150 dump truck trips per day for as many as four years — past their homes. They objected that the plan had been approved by the supervisors of San Luis Obispo County (where the sand originated) but that the sand would be disposed of in Santa Barbara County. “We were never notified of anything,” protested Dan Kirk, a Santa Maria resident, who described himself as “being a little to the right of Attila the Hun.” The sand in question was contaminated in the largest underground oil spill in United States history, as industrial solvents leaked from their underground pipes during a 50 year period.

For the City of Santa Maria, the tip fees charged for sand disposal will generate between $6 and $16 million. Critics worry that because of the landfill’s proximity to the river — and the weakness of the nearby levees — the presence of so much contaminated soil could pose unacceptable risks. In addition, they note that the landfill is not lined, though dump operators have insisted they will place a protective lining underneath and on top of the sand in question to prevent leaching. Coastal Commission staff recommended the commissioners reject the appeal, arguing that the lack of public notice did not constitute sufficient grounds for stopping the project. Kirk said he and his colleagues are currently appraising their legal options.

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