Six members of the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday lent their support to a $130 million trash-diversion project that would extend the life of the Tajiguas landfill 10 years, until 2036.
Santa Barbara County plans to build the Resource Recovery Project at the landfill, which sits in a canyon along the Gaviota Coast, and is the primary waste-disposal site for the South Coast.
The recovery project would be staffed by Marborg employees, and include an anaerobic digester in 2019, with an expectation that it would be completed by 2020.
The facility is designed to take organic material that is thrown into the trash and convert it into energy to power the facility. The goal is to remove 60 percent of the trash from the landfill.
“Longterm, we have to figure out what we are going to do with organics,” said Bob Samario, the city’s finance director. “At some point you are going to need something like this.”
The completion of the project means that single-family residents will see an increase in their monthly trash bills jump from $41.42 to $46.32.
The project has long been mired in controversy over the cost, location and potential effectiveness.
The county plans to finance the project through the issuance of bonds, but is relying on the city of Santa Barbara and other local jurisdictions to deliver steady waste — and revenues — to pay off the bond debt to build the project.
The project was originally supposed to cost $110 million, but the price jumped after it was revealed that a portion of the original design turned out to located within the Coastal Zone boundary, which is against state law.
The project had to be redesigned outside of the coastal zone, forcing the terms of the contract with the construction company, MSB, to be renegotiated.
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy then filed a lawsuit challenging the county’s approval of the project, and demanding a supplemental environmental impact report.
They said the project is “flawed” because it won’t meet the county’s financial or environmental targets. The group and the county resolved their dispute out of court this past June.
Only Councilman Jason Dominguez rejected the project on Tuesday. He opposed the rising cost and the escalating price structure that allows for lower tipping fee costs on the front end, but an additional $13 million cost by the end of the payment cycle.
He made a motion for the city to withdraw from the project, but he got no support from his colleagues.
“This is not the project that anyone thought it would be,” Dominguez said. “It’s costs are way out of proportion to its usefulness. There’s already $20 million in extra costs, and the shovels haven’t even started digging. We are wasting a lot of tax dollars.”
Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, who teaches environmental geology at Santa Barbara City College, said she trusts that the county is making the correct financial and environmental decisions for residents.
“We want to have the best environmental option we can, and it won’t be the cheapest option, that is not how being an environmentalist works,” Sneddon said. “It’s not the cheaper option.”
She said the location of the project on the Gaviota coast is not ideal, but it’s the best overall solution we have.
“It is a difficult decision,” Sneddon said. “I think the science is good and the project is good.”
Councilman Randy Rowse agreed.
“This soup has been cooked for a long time and it’s time to go ahead and go forward,” Rowse said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.