Doubling Down on ‘Dirty Merf’
County Approves Final Review of Contentious $122 Million Tajiguas Plan
With gusto, the county supervisors approved Tuesday the final environmental review of the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project, the $122 million high-tech project to extend the life of the coastal dump by 10 years to 2036. The project — presented more than 140 times in over a decade — would separate recyclables and compostable items from the trash, and capture methane gas to create electricity. Known as the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and the Anaerobic Digestion Facility, the project would recover 60 percent of garbage in the dump.
But environmentalists, generally balking at development on the Gaviota Coast, have long called for county officials to examine alternatives to the Santa Barbara County–owned project. “It’s our request that today you hit the pause button,” said attorney Marc Chytilo, noting he supports the ultimate goal of reducing landfill dependence and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. He and his staff argued the environmental review failed to examine alternatives to the MRF — aka the “dirty merf” — and merely gave alternate locations. In addition, Chytilo said, it is unknown whether anaerobic digestion — which breaks down organic matter into soil — will yield quality compost that could actually be sold. Moreover, the price of “recycling is tanking,” which is worrisome because it would drive up costs of the “tipping fee,” he said, giving taxpayers the bill.
The project is expected to increase such fees to $105 per ton from $84 per ton. Though the project was once intended to be privately financed, a public financing model, involving a number of area cities, was proposed last year after tipping fees came in higher than expected. MSB Investors LLC — formerly Mustang Renewable Power Ventures LLC — was selected for the project.
The county supervisors all expressed confidence in the environmental findings presented Tuesday. “This is something just for the public’s benefit,” said Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. After the hearing, Chytilo said he has no current litigation plans, but that cities will hold hearings on the proposed dump this fall so “it’s not over.”