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Santa Barbara County to Weigh Funding Options for Tajiguas Landfill Resource Recovery Project

Cost estimates for the project, planned to extend the usefullness of the landfill by another 15 years, keep increasing and the county plans to examine public and private financing

Santa Barbara County is weighing financing options for a planned resource recovery project at the Tajiguas Landfill. The project could keep the landfill open for another 20 years.
Santa Barbara County is weighing financing options for a planned resource recovery project at the Tajiguas Landfill. The project could keep the landfill open for another 20 years. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

The proposed project to extend the life of the Tajiguas Landfill came back at a higher cost than expected, so the Santa Barbara County supervisors voted unanimously to have staff to come back with options to finance the resource recovery facility. 

County officials have said the landfill has 15 to 20 years of capacity left, and action is need to extend its usefulness.

A plan has been in the works to construct a materials recovery facility, or MRF, at the landfill to sort recyclables from organic matter, which would be put into an anaerobic digester that converts the matter into methane gas, which could be converted to electricity. 

The goal is to extend the life of the landfill by 20 years by diverting 60 percent of the material that is currently ending up in the landfill. Tajiguas, located at 14470 Calle Real on the Gaviota Coast, handles about 600 tons of trash a day. 

In 2002, the board approved the expansion of the county-owned-and-operated landfill and directed staff to look at landfill alternatives.

The county went out to bid for the project in 2009, but since then, costs have increased from $100 per ton of waste to $146 per ton, causing county staff to need to explore how to best finance the project.

It's unclear how much the total cost of the project would be, but the anaerobic digester would cost between $40 and $50 million.

In 2012, the county endorsed the project put forward by Mustang Renewable Power Ventures and an environmental review process was started.

Public Works Director Scott McGolpin said Tuesday that the project is urgent.

"This project is certainly needed more now than ever," he told supervisors. Private financing was considered in the beginning, but McGolpin said public works staff think other funding should be considered. 

Also driving the project is the passage of Assembly Bill 32, a state mandate that greenhouse gases be reduced to pre-1990 levels by the year 2020.

Mark Schleich of Resource Recovery and Waste Management said the greenhouse gasses captured from the project would be the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road.

Originally, private financing was expected to be used to limit public financial liability. That model proposed by Mustang maintained a high tipping fee for local solid waste haulers, as much as $146 per ton, up from the $100 expected when the project was put out to bid in 2009.

John Dewey of Mustang Power admitted that costs have increased since 2009, partly because of an increase in actual costs and a decrease in tonnage of trash, which led to a more expensive project.

County staff will be looking at several options, including using public financing to pay for the MRF, and using private financing for the anaerobic digester.

In May, local city managers met to discuss their options and recommended that the county examine the funding plan, which supervisors approved Tuesday. The cities of Buellton, Goleta, Santa Barbara and Solvang were at the table during those discussions.

During public comment at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Bob Hart, a property owner directly next to the Tajiguas property, said that the project was not consistent with the general plan, since it would be an industrial project on agricultural land.

Others said that the county should do more, like start a curbside composting program, to extend the life of the landfill. Almost everyone expressed chagrin at the landfill's location, which was sited on the Gaviota Coast in the 1960s before the California Coastal Act.

"I agree in the sense that this landfill should have never ever been sited on the coast," Supervisor Salud Carbajal said. "It boggles my mind."

Nevertheless, the landfill has about 15 years of capacity left, and Carbajal asked for more information about the options for funding and the rates that would result.

"At the end of the day, we all have to make some tough decisions," he said.

"Now matter where we would site it, that would be the wrong place," said Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said, adding that he considered it an environmentally-superior project.

Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district includes Tajiguas, said that there wasn't a perfect solution, "other than for all of us to drastically reduce our consumption and I don't really see that happening very much."

Farr, too, lamented that the landfill was where it was, but noted that that the county's search for another landfill site hasn't gone well either.

"At the end of the day, that means polluting another pristine canyon," she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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