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Hearing continues on disputed recycling facility at county landfill

A planned recycling facility at the Sonoma County landfill that has been caught up in a lawsuit is set for a second round of public input after its permit hearing before the Board of Supervisors was continued Tuesday.

The project calls for installation of a mechanized solid waste sorting and recovery operation inside the existing transfer station at the central landfill off Meacham Road west of Cotati.

The plans are part of the county's effort to boost recycling of reusable material now being disposed at the landfill, thereby increasing the site's lifespan and cutting down on carbon emissions from decaying garbage.

“When we divert more material, we create a cleaner environment,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a strong supporter of the recycling project.

It was packaged within a larger deal approved by the county last year to turn over operation of the landfill to a private operator under a 20-year agreement worth an estimated $547 million.

Execution of the agreement with Arizona-based Republic Services has been delayed by ongoing county-city negotiations over potential future liabilities associated with the landfill.

A lawsuit, meanwhile, by a group of neighbors and the county's largest labor union has sought to overturn the county's approval of the outsourcing deal.

The suit, filed in May, claims that the county's environmental review of the landfill's future — based on a 1998 document updated twice in recent years — does not account for several planned improvements, including the recycling facility.

The neighbors pressing the case, residents of the nearby Happy Acres subdivision, have voiced concerns about impacts on water and air quality and traffic.

“It's more and more noise, more and more stench, more and more pollution to the environment,” Roger Larsen, a Happy Acres homeowner, told supervisors Tuesday.

A basic environmental review for the project, however, found that with mitigation measures any anticipated impacts were less than significant.

“This is not a major change from an environmental perspective,” said Stu Clark, a Republic Services consultant.

Opponents introduced new evidence this week that they said showed the 10 additional semi-truck trips planned per day from the landfill in connection with the recycling plant would significantly increase cancer risks.

Zane called their study “deeply flawed.”

“We respectfully disagree,” said Christina Caro, an attorney for the group called Renewed Efforts of Neighbors Against Landfill Expansion and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021. “That's not an issue to be decided at a board meeting but by qualified experts in court.”

The board hearing was continued to March 25. The first court date is April 7.

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