Recology scores a victory in landfill agreement dispute

San Francisco’s garbage is destined for a new home, following a Board of Supervisors unanimous vote Tuesday to reject an appeal for environmental review of a new landfill agreement.

The appeal was turned down even though garbage trucks will now have to travel 40 round-trip miles farther than before.

The vote was a significant victory for Recology, who operates the Hay Road landfill in Solano County — the place San Francisco’s trash will now end up.

The company has long operated a trash hauling monopoly, but until now hasn’t had the landfill piece of the refuse business.

After a brief discussion, the board unanimously rejected the appeal calling for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. The appeal was filed by Solano County Orderly Growth Committee arguing the Planning Department’s decision to not do the review was flawed.

The decision was a blow to Houston-based Waste Management, which operates the Altamont landfill where San Francisco’s refuse is currently trucked.

Adding to the political intrigue was the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club, who threw its political might behind the appeal, including sending out 30,000 mailers last week. The mailers were similar to the 40,000 mailed by Waste Management.

Duane Kromm, a former Solano County supervisor and leader of the committee that filed the appeal, said the vote came as a surprise. “Eleven-zip against. I was appalled,” he said.

Kromm said “legal action” will likely be next, although he noted, “The problem with fighting garbage is the money is so big.”

Supervisor Eric Mar, noting the landfill fight dates back many years, characterized the issue between Recology and Waste Management as “a battle with two elephants in the room.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener suggested the CEQA appeal was really about those who oppose the deal, not about environmental impacts.

“It strikes me as a dispute between some residents and Solano County and their own county government that they don’t want a landfill,” Wiener said. “I can’t blame them.”

Under the $130 million landfill agreement with Recology, which Deborah Raphael, director of The City’s Department of the Environment signed in July, the company will haul the trash to its Hay Road landfill in Solano County, which is 155 round-trip miles away, about 40 miles longer than to the Altamont Landfill. There would be up to 50 truck trips per day.

Appellants argued a fuller review was needed to analyze the possibility of more than 50 trucks per day, suggesting disposed tons would increase — not decrease as assumed. Also they questioned the emission calculations, among other items.

Paul Maltzer, a San Francisco city planner, told the board that the decision was “pretty straight forward.”

“What is proposed is a change in truck routes,” he said.

Maltzer said adding the trucks to Interstate 80, which has an average daily volume of about 115,000 vehicles, is “almost irrelevant in terms of air quality impacts.”

Mark Arsenault, a Recology employee, said, “I am quite confident that our diversion efforts will exceed the growth of The City.”

Recology drew support from Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council and members of the Teamsters union, which represents trash haulers.

A previous landfill agreement approved by the board in 2011 for Recology to haul waste by rail to Yuba County was scrapped amid three lawsuits alleging improper bidding and inadequate environmental review. The Hay Road plan was Recology’s backup plan.

Guillermo Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, said the contract with Waste Management is based on the number of tonnage disposed, which is expected to expire in January 2016. That is when the trucks are expected to start hauling the waste to Solano.

A pending lawsuit filed by Waste Management alleging improper bidding remains in the courts. A Recology spokesman previously noted Waste Management’s proposal would have cost “an extra $13 million a year.”

Last year 373,940 tons of San Francisco’s waste ended up in the landfill. The City has a goal of sending no waste to the landfill after 2020.

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