BY CRAIG W. ANDERSON
Forward Landfill rises up above an almond orchard on South Austin Road.
Photo by Kevin Swartzendruber
Forward Landfill, the refuse Goliath squatting on South Austin Road continues to raise the ire of area residents, nearby farmers, Farm Bureau and the Federal Aviation Administration. Why? The landfill wants to expand onto 184 acres of land that is under a Williamson Act contract.
A number of groups, including the Stockton Metropolitan Airport County Aviation Advisory Committee and the San Joaquin Council of Governments Airport Land Use Commission, along with the county board of supervisors will be voting to disapprove or approve the proposed expansion in the near future.
Dumping and violations
"San Joaquin County is the dumping ground for Bay Area garbage because of this facility," said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. "Trash from the Bay Area is covering prime ag land and an expansion is not appropriate."
Historically, Forward Landfill has committed numerous violations of an assortment of laws and permits and has paid more than $4 million on improvements and in fines and fees to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, San Joaquin County’s Environmental Health Department, and to the County Environmental Prosecutions Unit.
Most recently, Forward Landfill received a permit from the San Joaquin County Planning Commission mandating the 184 acres be used only as a buffer area, with specific prohibitions for using the property for landfill activities, waste placement, disposal, increasing the permitted daily tonnage or refuse footprint, and other uses.
Caught in the act
However, members of the watchdog organization Clean San Joaquin, saw and verified via videotaping "significant landfill activities on the expansion site … including the land discharge of cannery waste, and the construction of an access road into the current landfill" all in direct violation of the use permit, wrote the organization’s legal firm, Shute Mihaly &Weinberger, LLP in a letter to Robert McClellon, program coordinator for the county Environmental Health Department.
This violated the landfill’s Waste Facilities Permit, Land Use Permit, the Williamson Act, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and CEQA guidelines, the firm’s Solid Waste Facilities Permit and San Joaquin County Zoning and Land Use Permit.
"The track record and performance of Forward Landfill is not good," said Katie Patterson, SJFB program director. These violations raise serious questions about Forward’s management effectiveness. In light of the many violations should the company have gotten this permit?"
Mike Gikas, past SJFB president and farmer near the Forward Landfill site wasn’t surprised by Forward’s transgressions. "That’s how they operate. Take the bird problem, for example."
He said Forward’s idea of reducing the risk of bird strikes to aircraft descending over the dump where birds congregate was to employ a falconer to unleash his raptor on the squadrons of birds in the runway approach area.
According to a statement from Forward, the company has frightened off 3,000 seagulls with noise-makers and falcons. "Releasing other predatory birds into the flight path doesn’t eliminate the bird strike potential," said Gikas. "At best, the falcon scared some seagulls."
Even Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who ditched his U.S. Airways jet with 155 people on board into New York’s Hudson River after bird strikes killed both engines and turned his Airbus A320 into a glider, said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors they should turn down the expansion "…given the life and death matters at stake."
Expanding the landfill near an airport is an "incredibly bad idea" because risk is introduced, he said, and birds will continue to flock in the airport pattern.
Forward is managing past mitigation plans from the City of Stockton per agreements when they took over," said Patterson.
She also pointed out that the EIR for the expansion "has no proper analysis of the effects on water used for ag crops. Growers in the area are very concerned about this which could put walnuts, cherries, and field crops at risk."
Forward Landfill, expansion or not, is a project of no benefit to San Joaquin County, Patterson said, adding, "The benefits go outside the county. What’s needed are programs that benefit county residents and this fails to do that."
"At some point Forward’s runoff will get into Stockton’s water supply because the aquifer flows in that direction," Gikas said. "Some polluted water goes through a facility on the North Fork of Little John Creek where the fumes are burned off before the water flows on."
County left with debris
He also said that in 20 years when the aquifer pollution is easily measurable, "Forward will be long gone, with only the mounds of garbage, Class II toxic material, and polluted water remaining."
Forward Landfill "hasn’t paid close attention to proper management of water, roads and air issues, and unfortunately there is no mechanism to put these people in their place," Patterson said.