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Appeals Court Reinstates Suisun Marsh Waste Landfill Expansion

File photo. Credit: SPRAWLDEF.
File photo. Credit: SPRAWLDEF.
A California appeals court in San Francisco today reinstated a state permit that would allow a Texas-based waste-disposal company to expand a regional landfill in Suisun Marsh in Solano County.

The permit granted by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission in 2010 was challenged by an El Cerrito-based environmental group called Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund, or SPRAWLDEF.

Unless the group successfully appeals the Court of Appeal ruling to the California Supreme Court, the permit will enable Waste Connections Inc. to add 167 adjoining acres to an existing 320-acre landfill.
  
The waste site, known as the Potrero Hills Landfill, is located southeast of Suisun City in the upland, grasslands area of the marsh. It contains an intermittent stream known as Spring Branch Creek.

The permit would allow Waste Connections to replace portions of the stream's watercourse with a 6,500-foot underground pipeline and a five-foot deep, 30-foot wide surface channel, according to the court.

SPRAWLDEF argued in a lawsuit that the issuance of the permit violated a county law that allows filling or excavation of a natural watercourse "only where no reasonable alternative is available."

In today's decision, a three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously overturned a 2012 ruling in which Solano County Superior Court Judge Paul Beeman set aside the permit.

Beeman had said the commission lacked substantial evidence to support its conclusion that a smaller expansion would not be economically feasible for the company.

But the appeals court said comparative figures supplied by Waste Connections gave the BCDC an adequate basis for its decision.

"A reasonable person could have reached the conclusion the commission reached," Justice Kathleen Banke wrote for the court.

The court noted that the figures showed, for example, that a 127-acre alternative that would have avoided the creek's watercourse would have reduced expansion capacity by 30 percent, decreased revenue by 45 percent and shortened the landfill's planned 35-year lifespan by 10 years, while saving only 10 percent in investment costs.

SPRAWLDEF Vice President David Tam said the group is considering appealing to the state Supreme Court.

"We have to take some time to study the ruling to decide whether to appeal," said Tam, who said he believes the court should have used a higher standard for determining whether there was substantial evidence to support the commission's conclusion.

A lawyer for Waste Connections was not available for comment.

The landfill expansion was originally proposed by a predecessor company in 2003 and has been the subject of several other challenges.

As a result of an earlier lawsuit by other plaintiffs, Beeman twice required the county to revise its environmental impact report on the project, a process that was completed in 2009.

While allowing the expansion, the BCDC permit limits the landfill's height to 220 feet to avoid visual impacts.

The landfill serves parts of the Bay Area, Central Valley, Sierra foothills and Northern California Coast, according to Waste Connections.

--Bay City News

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