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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