After years of public debate, the Santa Barbara County Supervisors unanimously voted to move forward with a revised expansion of the Tajiguas Landfill. The project is a combination of a complex sorting system and an anaerobic digester that will compost organic materials in an oxygen-free container. It extends the life of the dump by a decade, to 2036.
The decision came after environmental groups, namely the Community Environmental Council (CEC) and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC), raised repeated questions about the need for the technology involved and the development’s impacts to sensitive habitats. Opposition to the project has long united environmentalists and fiscal conservatives, who are usually at odds. The estimated $130 million project is expected to raise trash rates for county residents.
Scott McGolpin, director of Public Works, argued the project would significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions — equivalent to 24,000 cars on the road annually. “This is going to be one of the largest greenhouse-gas-reducing [projects] in this county’s history,” he said. “Today we are recycling 73 percent of total waste that we currently generate. We are hoping to divert 90 percent.”
But environmental attorney Marc Chytilo, who represents GCC, said the reemergence of the red-legged frogs, a federally recognized threatened species, calls into question the project’s most recent environmental review.
Earlier this year, officials revealed there had been a mistake by county staff in drawing the boundary maps for the project. The error forced them to redesign the project, moving it out of the coastal zone, which is overseen by the California Coastal Commission. The total cost of the redesign is nearly $20 million. That translates to 70 cents for residents every month, McGolpin said. The City of Santa Barbara last year reluctantly approved joining the project. The county is in discussions with the City of Santa Barbara about the trash rates, he added.
The county supervisors, expressing some disappointment about the delays, said they wanted to move forward. There are not any other viable places, they said, to dump the county’s trash. Chytilo has threatened to sue, which the county supervisors discussed in closed session on Tuesday. “If a lawsuit was filed and delayed this,” McGolpin said, “it’s the ratepayers that are going to have to bear the cost. That’s just unfortunate.”