The county and operator of the John Smith Road Landfill in eastern San Benito County are preparing to undergo a major expansion that would more than double the current daily intake of garbage, increase the disposal facility’s total storage capacity by multiple factors and add the ability to harvest methane on site.
The proposal—which would expand the landfill’s footprint from about 95 acres to about 388 acres—must first undergo a lengthy environmental study under the California Environmental Quality Act. San Benito County, the lead agency on the study, will host two online scoping meetings on March 10 and 11 for the upcoming environmental impact report.
County officials are asking members of the public—including any outside agencies—to provide input on what potential impacts of the landfill expansion the study should consider, as well as any ideas to mitigate those impacts.
County District 1 Supervisor Mark Medina said he wanted to hold off commenting on the landfill expansion proposal until after the public feedback period is over. He said he plans to sit in on the upcoming EIR scoping meetings.
The expansion of John Smith Road Landfill, located at 2650 John Smith Road, is proposed by the county and the facility’s operator, Waste Solutions of San Benito, LLC.
The landfill currently sits on property owned by the county and the City of Hollister, according to a Notice of Preparation for the EIR drafted by county staff. The proposal would expand the landfill onto land to the east, north and west of the existing site, which is about two miles from Hollister’s eastern boundary. Ownership of these lands would be transferred to the county if the project is approved.
The expansion would increase the landfill’s daily intake from 1,000 to 2,300 tons, according to the notice. Total disposal capacity would increase from 9.35 million to 58 million cubic yards, and the waste footprint would rise from 58 to 253 acres. Furthermore, the maximum elevation of the landfill would increase from 920 feet to 949 feet above sea level.
The expansion would also widen John Smith Road Landfill’s entrance area to accommodate more truck traffic; and add interior roadways, soil stockpiles, stormwater retention basins and open space, the notice of preparation said.
“If habitat preservation or restoration is necessary to offset biological impacts associated with the proposed landfill expansion, a 70-acre area of the 101.3-acre County property located south of John Smith Road is available and may be used for these purposes,” says the notice. “If used as habitat mitigation, these lands would include a conservation easement with a management plan that would ensure they are protected in perpetuity.”
Waste Solutions of San Benito did not respond to a request for comment about the proposal.
The landfill operator also proposes installing a “gas-to-energy” facility. Landfills generate gas through the decay of organic materials buried within the mounds of garbage. This often contains at least 50 percent methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, the county’s notice explains.
The John Smith Road Landfill currently does not generate enough landfill gas to harvest for energy, but operators expect it will in about five years as the volume and intake of refuse piles up. Thus, the proposed expansion includes the installation of equipment and infrastructure to allow the conversion of gas to energy on site.
The expansion of the landfill’s entrance area would include more space for recycling and hazardous waste disposal, more parking, truck washing and equipment maintenance.
Currently, most vehicle trips to John Smith Road Landfill are from the general public dropping off small loads on the weekends, the notice says. But most of the overall tonnage entering the landfill comes from large commercial loads. In 2019, seventy-eight percent of the tonnage received at the local landfill was from large trucks from outside San Benito County.
“The significant increase in daily tonnage allowed will generate a proportionate increase in the number of long-distance trips by the commercial trucks importing out-of-county waste,” says the notice. “Increases in vehicle miles travelled and associated air quality and green-house gas emissions are expected to occur.”
Mary Hsia-Coron, of the local land use activist group Preserving Our Rural Communities, said the John Smith Road Landfill project is not on the group’s radar. However, she said in an email that PORC “would be supportive of residents who live near the (landfill) who are working on that issue.”
The Notice of Preparation for the JSRL project—which includes information on how to participate in the March 10 and 11 Zoom meetings—can be found online at https://www.cosb.us/home/showpublisheddocument?id=6574.