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Local News

Santa Barbara County Supervisors OK Revised Resource-Recovery Project for Tajiguas Landfill

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a contentious revised resource-recovery project planned for implementation at the Tajiguas Landfill that opponents claim is financially irresponsible and won’t benefit the community.

“This is a crazy amount of money, and who is going to pay for it? Our kids,” said Nancy Black, who sits on the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, but told the board she was speaking as a mom. “I think we could do much better with far less.” 

The project’s price tag has recently jumped from an estimated $111 million to more than $130 million, with construction to be financed through 20-year bonds issued by the county. 

Last July, the supervisors approved a contract with MSB Investors LLC to design, build and operate facilities at the landfill, which sits in a canyon on the Gaviota Coast.

As planned, the expansion includes two new facilities. One would sort recyclables and organic waste from trash. The other would convert organic waste into compostable materials and biogas, the latter of which will be used to generate electricity.

Bonds to finance the project are expected to be repaid through generation of revenue at the landfill, including the sale of electricity, and an increase in tipping fees charged to trash haulers serving the county’s unincorporated areas and the cities — Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton — that bring their solid waste to the landfill.

Phil McKenna, who also sits on the Gaviota Coast Conservancy board, which is opposed to the planned expansion at the Tajiguas Landfill, called the financing plan “irresponsible” and said it wouldn’t win approval outside board chambers.

“If this was offered in the private marketplace, it would immediately be laughed out,” McKenna said, noting he was a retired financial planner. “The county bears all the financial risk.”

In addition to financing woes, opponents are also concerned about the reliability of the planned anaerobic digestion technology to be used at the landfill, and believe had the county pursued better, more ambitious recycling programs years ago, the need to extend the current facility’s lifespan would have been avoided.

Without the project, the landfill would be slated to close in 2026. The expansion will extend that date to 2036.

The proposed project not only aims to reduce the amount of trash that winds up going into the landfill, but it also looks to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

County officials say the revised resource-recovery project will result in the largest greenhouse gas emission reduction ever for the region, an equivalent of 22,000 cars being taken of the roads every year.

Additionally, 30 percent of waste processed in the landfill’s new materials-recovery facility will be diverted to the organic-waste-digester facility, while another 30 percent will emerge as recyclables. The remaining 40 percent will end up in the landfill itself.

“We believe we are bringing you a better project today than in the past,” Public Works Director Scott McGolpin told the supervisors.

The project suffered a major roadblock earlier this year when it was discovered that a technical planning error had been made related to project documents that caused delays and also drove up costs.

Staff used an incorrect boundary for the coastal zone when mapping out the proposed expansion. Areas of the project were erroneously included in a protected and well-regulated strip of land along the Gaviota Coast

The error has since been fixed, resulting in the relocation of the ananaerobic digestion facility and a materials-recovery facility that are to be constructed at the landfill as part of the expansion project.

First District Supervisor Das Williams, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, said he was saddened that the people who have urged him to embrace climate change over the years are the same individuals fighting the county’s approval of the expansion.

He said he’s waiting for the day when the county’s environmentalists will rally around a project simply because it will improve the quality of life in the region and not just for symbolic purposes, which he believes is happening now.

“I don’t know any other way the county can reduce its own emissions more substantively,” Williams said. “Now I am being told instead of this project we should just keep killing the planet. This is something big. This is something real, and we should do our part.”

Chairwoman Joan Hartmann said she came to Tuesday’s hearing planning to vote ‘no’ on the revised project, but after listening to staff’s presentation and having the board’s questions answered, her mind changed.

“I came here expecting not to support it, but I don’t see any alternative,” Hartmann said, adding that had she not come into the decision-making process at the tail end of it, she wouldn’t support the proposed expansion plans. 

Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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