San Luis Obispo County residents who have raised concerns about smell, traffic and noise from a proposed food and green waste processing plant near the county airport will have more time to get their questions answered before any decision is made on whether the facility can be built.
Saying they wanted to give residents more time to research a proposed anaerobic digestion plant, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to continue a hearing on the proposal to Nov. 15.
Four residents had appealed an Aug. 25 county Planning Commission decision allowing Hitachi Zosen Inova USA LLC to remodel a 13,128-square-foot warehouse and build a 36,000-square-foot addition for a processing plant at 4388 Old Santa Fe Road, just south of San Luis Obispo.
The anaerobic digestion plant would process food and green waste from the Waste Connections service area — which stretches from Cambria to Nipomo, not including Atascadero or Paso Robles — and then use the methane emitted from the compost to produce energy. It would be the first facility of this type in the United States, according to the environmental review documents for the project.
“I think what they need to be able to do is ask their questions of the experts and applicants,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes the proposed plant. “The folks appealing it deserve to have more time to look at the information presented, and what I’m proposing is to ask some questions of the applicants so maybe the fear factor is alleviated.”
The project is something the county needs in order to meet mandates in state legislation requiring local jurisdictions to implement an organic waste recycling program to achieve California’s aggressive recycling and greenhouse gas emission goals, Hill said.
The residents and business owners who filed the appeal — Pismo Beach resident Norman Beko, who owns property near the project; Mike Kyle, owner of CT International on Santa Fe Road; and local residents Paul Rys and Kathy Borland — said they believe an environmental impact report needs to be prepared for the project.
An EIR must be prepared when there is substantial evidence that significant environmental effects may occur, according to county planning staff. Planner Brandi Cummings wrote in a staff report that there’s no evidence that such effects would occur after measures are taken to reduce impacts, including odor and air quality.
In response to the appeal, Cummings wrote that the project would not include any composting operations. The anaerobic digestion process would take place in an enclosed facility, which would be kept at negative pressure to pull in outside air when the doors open and prevent odors from escaping.
“I spent a week looking at all these plants” in Switzerland, Pat Fenton, district manager of Waste Connections, told the supervisors Tuesday. “I’m telling you there was no smell within 5 feet of the building.”
An air quality analyst for the applicant’s team said there could be odors when doors open to allow trucks carrying the waste into the facility. But the doors are only open for 12 seconds each time.
The supervisors also were not leaning Tuesday toward an EIR, with Supervisors Lynn Compton and Frank Mecham saying they are more often used these days to derail a project.
On Tuesday, about a dozen speakers urged the board to grant a continuance so they could get more information about the plan.
“I understand there are forces in this county that want this project,” attorney John W. Fricks, a partner in Ogden & Fricks, said on behalf of the appellants. “We would ask that you give us the time … to have the public’s questions answered and to see if an EIR is needed.”
The project is about 1,500 feet from homes to the south, according to the environmental review documents for the project.
According to county planners, the site has been in industrial use since the early 1980s when Trusco Tank, a steel tank manufacturing company, owned and developed the site. Chicago Bridge & Ironworks later purchased it, and Waste Connections took it over in 2012.
Waste Connections will continue to operate waste hauling, including storing waste containers, haul trucks and related maintenance.