Row on the creek
Critics blast environmental review of proposed waste conversion facility along Glenn County waterway
The watchdogs at Butte Environmental Council usually keep guard close to home, but occasionally they’ll look beyond Chico’s backyard. “Environmental issues don’t stop at the county line,” said Executive Director Robyn DiFalco. “We tend to look beyond our borders at least a little bit to see if our community will be affected.”
She believes that’s the case with the proposed Glenn County Solid Waste Conversion Facility about 3 miles west of Hamilton City, which would sort and recycle up to 200 tons of material a day and convert biodegradable substances into biogas. According to the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the goal is to divert and recycle up to 70 percent of the county’s municipal solid waste from the landfill. And that’s been a problem; the county’s landfill near Artois has been pushing capacity for years and is set to close in December.
What’s caught BEC’s attention? It’s mostly a matter of location. The facility would be constructed along the northern bank of Stony Creek, which feeds into the Sacramento River and the Tuscan Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir that provides drinking water for residents in Glenn County and nearby communities—including Chico.
“Most people here rely on the Tuscan Aquifer for drinking water,” said DiFalco. She added that a spill, leak or flood at the waste treatment plant could introduce pollutants into the groundwater supply.
Michael Robinson lives on Stony Creek and is a member of Concerned Citizens of Glenn County, a group of 20 or so residents who fear potentially far-reaching impacts if the waterway is contaminated. Ahead of the Planning Commission’s meeting on Feb. 17, when the panel will review the final EIR, the group has collected 300 signatures of people opposing the project. “It’s just crazy,” he said candidly. “The whole plan is crazy.”
BEC has taken an official stance against the waste conversion facility, maintaining that the EIR is inadequate and “downplays the impacts” of building such a plant on Stony Creek.
After reading about Glenn County’s landfill reaching capacity nearly a decade ago, Willows native Kara Baker pitched a solution to county officials: building a new solid waste receiving and transfer facility on her family’s 478-acre property on Highway 32.
“I started approaching the supervisors to ask, ‘Why don’t you consider something different from a landfill?’” she told the CN&R in 2014. “They said, ‘You’re right—land-filling doesn’t work.’”
Now Baker is the CEO of KVB Inc., the firm overseeing the project. Among other goals, KVB hopes to stimulate the local economy by processing trash from Chico. “Wastes from Chico would increase tipping fee revenues and biogas production that could both directly or indirectly make [the anaerobic digester facility] more successful,” the EIR reads.
While that would be a boon for Glenn County, lost tipping fees could cost Butte County millions. It would also add mileage; garbage trucks would drive past Hamilton City instead of to the Neal Road Landfill—contrary to the goal of lowering greenhouse emissions outlined in Chico’s 2020 Climate Action Plan, DiFalco said.
Another goal is to develop renewable energy; biogas produced by an anaerobic digester can be combusted to generate electricity and heat or processed into transportation fuels.
A byproduct of that process is digestate. The waste conversion plant would produce about 1,030 tons of wet digestate solids per year and store it in septic ponds. Digestate from food waste is often used as crop fertilizer, and that’s the method of disposal outlined in the EIR. However, DiFalco says that’s an inappropriate mitigation measure for a facility handling waste from both residential and commercial sources, because the digestate may contain heavy metals and other pollutants.
“Municipal solid waste might have discarded batteries, lightbulbs or paint in it,” she explained. “Yes, they sort stuff out. … But it only takes one auto-body shop to put something in there that shouldn’t be.”
Glenn County Associate Planner Andy Popper, who presented the EIR at previous meetings, refused to comment on the document. Attempts to contact Baker for this story were met with a prepared statement: “KVB is not at liberty to comment on any matters or questions regarding the EIR document” before the Planning Commission hearing on Feb. 17.