Local News

Wednesday, May 26 2010 05:37 PM

County ups ante for greenwaste facility

BY GRETCHEN WENNER, Californian staff writer gwenner@bakersfield.com

During their long meeting Tuesday -- much of it focused on budget discussions -- the Kern County Board of Supervisors also took action on other items:

* The board denied a request to expand the allowable waste stream taken in by the Community Recycling and Resource Recovery Inc. facility outside Lamont.

The greenwaste composting operation, first OK'd in 1993, has long bothered residents of Lamont, Arvin, Weedpatch and Greenfield with smells, wind-blown trash and dumping of debris-laden compost on its fields.

Supervisor Don Maben agreed with a plea from the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, an environmental justice group, that Community Recycling should be completely enclosed.

In the end, the board voted to postpone a vote until June 22 but made clear it will require the company to prepare a full environmental report.

"We can't continue to do business the way we've done business" regarding air quality and other impacts, Maben said. The facility is in his district.

The company had asked to modify its permit so it could take in gypsum wallboard and "digestates," essentially sewage sludge from dairies and similar operations. It would have been the fourth such modification since the original permit was approved. No overall study of air, water and other impacts has ever been done.

Maben said the situation had become one of "death by a thousand cuts" and it was time for a full environmental review.

The 190-acre operation can take in up to 150 truckloads carrying 3,750 tons of waste a day. It has previously been fined by the county for significant permit violations.

Lorelei Oviatt, the county's planning director, told the board a city of Los Angeles pilot program for food-scrap waste, which includes some trash, is currently under way. Los Angeles wants to ultimately bring 650 tons a day here because residents of Sun Valley have opposed bringing the waste to a facility there, Oviatt said.

* Supervisors also postponed levying a $961,000 fine on Hondo Inc., also known as Hondo Chemical, a soil amendment facility on Stockdale Highway that may have polluted groundwater near the Kern Water Bank. The board has struggled to get Hondo to clean up the site and drill five test wells to determine whether water has been tainted by stockpiled fly ash or other sources. Jess Karr, president, said the drilling would begin in early June. Supervisors granted Karr another extension, the ninth since fall 2007. County regulators will monitor progress and supervisors will take up the matter again in July.

* The board was spared an appeal hearing regarding Golden Queen Mining Co. Inc.'s proposed operations on Soledad Mountain, south of Mojave, after both parties withdrew appeals. That means a prior planning commission decision approving a 31-year, open-pit gold and silver mining permit will stand.

* Supervisors approved a 5 percent mitigation fee for large solar projects; the figure had been suggested by an industry group.

* The board heard a report on the possibility of having Kern County break away from PG&E. A staff report outlined the difficulties of forming a municipal utility district. Maben asked staffers to look into whether Kern could be annexed by Sacramento's existing district; Supervisor Mike Maggard said he still wanted all options, including a local ballot initiative, explored. Maggard added he was "really disappointed" by PG&E's handling of Proposition 16, which will be on the June 8 primary ballot, and would make it much harder for cities and counties to ditch PG&E. The utility is paying tens of millions to support Prop. 16. Maggard said the ads claim "blatantly untrue" things that make cities and counties look bad.

Separately, the board voted to support PG&E's proposal to further collapse payment tiers from four to three.

* In other local government news, the county is negotiating with firms that run public foreclosure auctions and want to hold the events on county property. Currently, the "trustee's sales" take place on City Hall steps, where the activity has gone on for years, every weekday at 10 a.m. City officials recently wrote a letter to auctioneers saying the sales as they now operate will get in the way of police operations scheduled to move into City Hall. (The directed policing unit and animal control are moving to City Hall's first floor, and traffic engineering will move to the second floor.) The auctions have led to loud crowds, trash, people charging personal cell phones and laptops inside City Hall, people setting up tables in City Hall to do business, people doing business in City Hall bathrooms and other issues, the city letter says. The city did not say the auctions had to stop but it did want to impose restrictions.

Jeff Frapwell, assistant county administrative officer, said his staff is looking into having the auctions take place by the fountain behind the county building on Truxtun Avenue or by the Liberty Bell at Truxtun and Chester avenues. The Liberty Bell site would also require state approval, since the state jointly owns the courthouse there. Frapwell says he hopes to have an answer for the auctioneers next week.

The public auctions are a necessary part of California's foreclosure process.

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