A warning of sorts accompanied the SLO County Board of Supervisors’ vote to delay a decision on the green and food waste processing facility slated for Waste Connections’ property near the SLO airport.
Supervisors told residents who appealed the SLO County Planning Commission’s September decision approving the project to use the extra time as an opportunity to understand the merits of the anaerobic digestion facility rather than to mount further opposition to it. Residents in the neighborhood along Buckley Road near the airport and business owners near the Waste Connections property on Old Santa Fe Road are asking the county to require an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project due to potential odor, traffic, and noise impacts.
“EIRs used to be ‘Let’s make a project better,’ now I think it’s ‘Let’s stop a project,’” 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham said during the meeting. “I don’t believe this is a project that needs to be stopped.”
Supervisor Lynn Compton concurred, but acknowledged that understanding the odor issues that could be associated with the project was important.
The 43,000-square-foot facility proposed by Hitachi Zosen INOVA and garbage company Waste Connections, which serves residents from Nipomo to Cambria, would turn the county’s organic waste into electricity without generating odor, according to the project applicants. Smell is a sticking point for most of the residents (and has previously killed outdoor composting facilities proposed or already operating in the county), who don’t believe the odor control measures included in the project proposal will work and worry that strong winds in the area will exacerbate any foul smelling issues.
Measures to reduce the risk of unpleasant aromas escaping the fully enclosed building include rapid moving garage doors and a bio filter—a 7,500 square-foot vent full of what amounts to wood chunks that air is pushed through before it exits the building. Several people who spoke during public comment at the meeting questioned the bio filter’s efficacy, which 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson seemed to chastise them for.
“I’ve heard people say essentially, it doesn’t work, and I think that’s contrary to evidence,” he said. “I hope that folks, that everyone on this, should approach this with an open mind.”
A potential state grant to help with project construction hangs in the balance, so supervisors opted to delay a decision on the project by 30 days instead of the 60 days the appellants asked for. Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district contains the project, said he felt giving the extra time might help quell some of the fears raised by area residents, but nobody on the board felt that the project warranted further study through an EIR.
“At some point we’re going to need a facility that diverts this waste, I mean that’s just the case. I understand the people object to a facility like this being near them, … but I really feel like this is a good project,” Hill said.