Supes: EIR a no-go

Major setback for proposed waste facility in Glenn County

Environmental justice attorney Sabrina Teller addressed the Glenn County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (March 29) and concisely summarized why a grassroots group is trying to stop a proposed waste treatment facility on Stony Creek.

“You’re being asked to approve a project involving an inherently messy business on a site with highly permeable soils, situated over an important aquifer and a tributary to the Sacramento River,” she said. “Even well-managed projects have spills and accidents. People get distracted, equipment fails and nature disrupts operations.”

The Glenn County Solid Waste Conversion Facility is being pitched as a clean solution to the county’s messy problem: The landfill outside of Artois may reach capacity this year. The county has seen this coming for more than a decade. So has KVB Inc., a company led by local entrepreneur Kara Baker. She touts state-of-the-art technology as a means of diverting reusable material from the landfill and, eventually, turning organic waste into renewable energy. But there is fierce opposition to Baker’s proposal led by the citizen action group Concerned Citizens of Glenn County.

After the Glenn County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) and conditional use permit in late February, Concerned Citizens promptly filed an appeal and hired an attorney. On Tuesday, the group won—the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to reject the EIR.

Why the protest? First off, there’s the location. Groups such as the Butte Environmental Council and the Sacramento River Preservation Trust have expressed concerns over the project’s proximity to Stony Creek, which feeds into the Sacramento River and the Tuscan Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir that provides drinking water to residents in Glenn County and nearby communities, including Chico.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad project,” said Lucas Ross Merz, executive director of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust, during the public comment period. “I do share concerns about the location. I do share concerns about the benefits for Glenn County.”

Further, nearby residents weren’t adequately notified about the project, especially the Hispanic community. During the public comment period on the EIR, the county failed to publish a notice in Glenn County’s newsletter for Spanish readers. (Hamilton City, the community closest to the site, is about 85 percent Hispanic.) The county did provide a Spanish translator during the meeting on Tuesday.

Even Merz had trouble learning about the project. “I couldn’t get my hands on the draft EIR the first time around,” he said.

The most significant hangup, however, relates to Chico.

As outlined in the EIR, Phase I of the project would involve a mixed waste processing facility, known as a “dirty MRF,” to mechanically sort recyclables. Phase II would roll out an anaerobic digester to break down organic material and turn it into biogas, which in turn can be combusted to generate electricity or processed into transportation fuels.

For Phase II to pencil out financially, the facility would need to expand its business and draw waste from outside Glenn County. As such, the EIR’s analysis is based largely on the premise that the KVB facility would draw waste from Chico in the future. For instance, the facility’s maximum daily processing capacity, 500 tons, accounts for that scenario.

Teller argued on Tuesday that the EIR is inadequate because it doesn’t reflect reality—that the city of Chico has never expressed interest in any such arrangement.

“Here’s the bottom line,” City Manager Mark Orme wrote in an email to the CN&R. “Today, the city of Chico has no mechanism and no authority to direct waste to any particular facility. However, a potential future city waste-hauling agreement might change that at some point, but in the future. Ultimately, it will be a policy decision solely made by the Chico City Council.”

As Teller told the supervisors: “The [EIR] process is based on a fantasy that if you build it, waste from Chico will come. … The analysis needs to be redone, taking away that assumption.”

Supervisor John Viegas, the board’s longest-tenured member, has a history of voting in favor of KVB and said he’s “always supported the project.” But he expressed doubts about its proposed location, the constantly shifting course of Stony Creek, and the unlikelihood of receiving waste from Chico.

“If we move this project forward, [and we] don’t ask these questions and don’t look at the alternatives, are we doing our due diligence as this Board of Supervisors for our constituency and for the county of Glenn?” Viegas said.

After lengthy deliberations from the panel—the meeting stretched close to five hours—Supervisor Keith Corum said he was satisfied with the EIR and made a motion to accept it as written. The motion failed, 3-2, with Viegas casting the deciding vote. Board Chairman Leigh McDaniel then countered with a motion of his own: to reject the EIR and mandate further study.

After some finessing, McDaniel settled on these specifics: The next EIR won’t mention Chico and will improve the impact analysis based on those changes; will be more accessible to the public by posting notifications in both English and Spanish; will analyze the facility’s maximum daily processing capacity only up to 300 tons; and more thoroughly explore the “environmentally superior alternative,” which is the existing landfill site in Artois.

In a unanimous vote, the supervisors adopted McDaniel’s motion, thereby setting back KVB’s project.