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San Joaquin County supervisors to settle landfill debate

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Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:00 am

The Stockton airport, the county’s farm bureau and others have been entrenched in a land-use debate with a Stockton landfill seeking to expand by almost 200 acres, in order to extend its lifespan.

While some county officials say the proposed Forward Landfill project wouldn’t immediately pose any additional environment problems, opponents believe the project would create numerous dangers for neighboring farmers and airplanes landing at the neighboring airport.

On Tuesday, both sides will present arguments to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, who must provide a four-fifths vote in order to approve the project.

Today the landfill extends more than 200 feet high, making it very visible from Highway 99. And continuing to inflate the pile of waste would be harmful to several surrounding industries, says Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau.

“We need to be thinking differently about our long-term future and what’s best for our region,” he said. “Continuing to extend the landfill, which should have been closed by now, is not in the best interest of San Joaquin County.”

Foward Landfill officials couldn’t be reached for in interview.

In order to approve the project, supervisors would have to override the airport land use compatibility plan developed in 1993, which prohibits Forward Landfill, located off Austin Road, from expanding into the outer approach of the Stockton Metropolitan Airport. The landfill is currently scheduled to close in 2021, but the expansion would allow the landfill to operate until 2039.

Supervisors have received numerous letters from agencies that say the project would be detrimental to the safety of aircraft using the airport.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the expanded landfill would attract birds, creating a hazard for aircraft.

“The location of the existing landfill is not considered compatible with safe airport operations,” the FAA stated in a letter to supervisors.

Forward Landfill has tried to keep birds away by releasing falcons and using pyrotechnics. However, airplanes have struck birds while taxiing four times in the past year, according to the FAA.

In 2012, Patrick Carreno, director of the Stockton Metropolitan Airport, also wrote a letter to supervisors objecting to the project.

“Landfills are incompatible uses for airports and the already close proximity of the Forward Landfill to the airport makes an expansion even more hazardous,” he wrote.

Blodgett said it’s not just the airport that would suffer if the landfill expanded.

“Where should our landfills be?” Blodgett said. “Our landfills shouldn’t be near airports, and they shouldn’t be on prime farmland.”

He said neighboring farmers already deal with trash finding its way onto their land, which can carry salmonella, E. coli, and other diseases.

Blodgett adds that 72 percent of Forward Landfill’s trash comes from outside San Joaquin County.

Blodgett also fears that the landfill could contaminate the water supply.

Starting in the late ‘90s, the landfill contaminated the groundwater, forcing the city of Stockton to provide residents living near the landfill with bottled water, according to Robert McClellan, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department.

Today, residents still use bottled water; however, that’s merely a precaution, McClellan added. The landfill reduced contaminants and the groundwater now meets state health requirements.

McClellan added that the expansion wouldn’t increase the burden on Forward Landfill.

“The impacts that exist now would just be prolonged,” he said. “There’s no proposed increase in traffic. There’s no added waste volumes being proposed at this time. It would be the same operation as we see now. It would just let them operate for more years.”

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing starting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Board Chambers of the San Joaquin County Administrative building, 44 N. San Joaquin St., Stockton.

Officials the Stockton Metropolitan Airport could not be reached on Monday.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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