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SLO down!

Why are we in such a rush to build a composting facility?

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Neighbors of the SLO County Airport became aware of an anaerobic digestion facility slated for the Waste Connections property on Old Santa Fe Road after it went to the Airport Land Use Commission for approval in late June. It was approved and then went to the SLO County Planning Commission, where again, it was approved. 

Concerned neighbors submitted an appeal requesting an environmental impact report (EIR) be completed due to the fact that Hitachi Zosen INOVA has never built one of these composting green/food waste facilities in the United States. We believe the impacts of the facility on air quality, noise, public services/utility, transportation/circulation, water, and setback requirements need to be studied in detail before this project is approved. The appeal is scheduled to go before the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 18. 

Food waste containers were distributed this summer so that SLO County residents would begin saving food waste and placing it in green waste containers weekly. The plan is for all that waste to eventually be dealt with in the anaerobic digestion facility. The proposal by Hitachi Zosen (from Switzerland) in conjunction with Oasis Associates (local) is more than 300 pages. 

The Planning Commission and the county Board of Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that the environmental impacts of the anaerobic digestion facility are identified before approving the conditional use permit so that the project can be properly conditioned to mitigate those impacts. This is especially important in an area where new construction projects are now flourishing—all around the airport (for instance, the Avila Ranch Project with 720 new homes at the corner of Buckley and Vachell). Yet, the county’s environmental coordinator summarily decided that the project wouldn’t negatively impact the area and therefore didn’t need an EIR.

The four residents who appealed the Planning Commission’s decision believe that the California Environmental Quality Act requires that  a focused EIR be prepared before the Hitachi plant is approved by the county. 

The reasons include:

1. Air quality/odor: The environmental coordinator’s report states that the total daily emissions of ozone precursors is above the threshold that’s considered to be “significant.” And yet, this did not merit additional scrutiny through an EIR and the negative declaration states that no significant impacts were detected. This is puzzling. Much has been made about the applicant’s promises that any exhaust from the process will be “filtered” for smell before being released into the atmosphere. While we are skeptical that the smell can be adequately filtered, there is no dispute that rotting food emits strong, unpleasant odors and that this waste and its odors will have to be trucked in to the facility. When residents pointed out that these trucks will be emitting waste smell, the applicant blithely responded that they would wash the trucks daily to minimize the smell. Not only does this create far greater water usage (the plant allegedly requires no water after construction and initial operation), but it implicitly admits that the odor will be present, at least within the trucks. What will happen to those scraps of waste washed out of the trucks? And the smell from those scraps? Not to mention, do we really believe that each truck will be washed daily?

2. Traffic: No formal traffic study was prepared. Instead, staff and the Planning Commission have taken the applicant’s word on how many trucks will be passing over narrow two-lane roads to get to the new facility. Moreover, the estimated number of trips certainly only takes into account current participation in recycling food waste and not the growth we can expect when residents get in the routine of “saving” the food waste, and, more importantly, the restaurants and grocery stores that will be required to recycle food scraps because of upcoming law changes. The Tribune’s Kathe Tanner just detailed on Oct. 5 in “Outsmarting that ooey gooey foodscrap pail,” in the paper her difficulties in composting her food waste, presumably those issues will be figured out by residents in time, resulting in more food waste being composted and more traffic to get that waste to the digestion facility.

3. Noise: The applicant claims that this is an “entirely enclosed” process. I guess it depends upon what one means by that. The trucks are going to drive onto the property, have to go in reverse (“beep, beep, beep”), all in unenclosed areas. Further, the waste is going to be processed 24 hours a day. A table on page 27 of the negative declaration indicates that all of the components of the anaerobic digestion process will generate noise that exceeds the 75 to 85 decibels generated by jet aircraft! Worse, jet aircrafts do not fly 24/7 and generally don’t fly during nighttime hours. 

There are going to be 720 new homes off of Buckley Road near the airport and, now, absent any Board of Supervisors intervention, there will be a never-before-tested-in-the-U.S. plant. We know that San Luis Obispo County prides itself on its greenness, but we can’t be dazzled by new “green” technology so much so that we ignore the fundamentals: air quality, odor, noise, and traffic.

We are dedicated recyclers and believe this is a worthwhile venture, however, the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport—the southern gateway to “The Happiest Place in America”—is the wrong place for such an experiment, at least without further study! We need you to study this project and attend the Board of Supervisor’s meeting on
Oct. 18. This will impact all residents in SLO County! You can find the project documents at slocounty.ca.gov. 

Kathy Borland lives on Buckley Road. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor at letters@newtimesslo.com. 

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