In 1999, Santa Barbara County Public Works — owner and operator of the only landfill in California that sits in a coastal canyon — proposed a third expansion of the Tajiguas Landfill. The expansion was met with massive public resistance, in large part because of its location on the otherwise pristine Gaviota Coast, but also because of its history of regulatory violations including groundwater and surface water pollution and air quality impacts. The Board of Supervisors, responding to the public outcry, agreed the landfill should be closed as soon as possible and approved a minimal expansion of not more than 15 years to allow time to find an alternative landfill.
Instead of finding a new inland landfill site, Public Works pursued the currently proposed Resource Recovery Project. A new sorting facility would separate recyclable materials from the trash and then “cook” the trash in an anaerobic digester, generating methane to power a generator. The residual “digestate” would be composted or, if too contaminated, dumped into the landfill. At best, up to 50 percent of what is currently landfilled would be eliminated but, more likely, far less.
Will this new technology (costing over $120 million) enable the promised closure by 2016 of the only California landfill located next to the ocean? Hardly. In fact the county now plans to continue using the Tajiguas Landfill for the foreseeable future, at a minimum until 2038.
So much for government promises.
Bobby Hazard is a member of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board of Directors.