By Vicky Boyd

Although plans to expand the Forward Landfill have been downsized since the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors essentially killed the original proposal in 2013, many of the concerns raised by the San Joaquin Farm Bureau back then remain unresolved today.

“We have the same concerns with any expansion at this point,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “They continue to not take care of the trash that’s blowing into farmers’ fields.”

On top of it, mud – especially during the wet winter months – cakes nearby roadways, creating dangerous conditions, he said. And birds, attracted by the garbage, create ongoing hazards to planes approaching the nearby Stockton airport runways.

The board of supervisors recently accepted the draft supplemental environmental impact statement covering a smaller proposed expansion project for the facility, located off of Austin Road south of Stockton. The public comment period runs through Nov. 2.

SJFB has retained Ripon legal counsel Thomas Terpstra to draft comments on the proposed expansion to ensure they have legal standing. This is not the first time SJFB has taken the additional steps and has done so with previous Forward Landfill comment submissions, Blodgett said.

“This has been a topic of discussion for a very long time for Farm Bureau,” said SJFB First Vice President David Strecker. “It affects a good portion of our membership. It also affects the entire county, so it’s something we want to make sure is being evaluated correctly.”

Dave Phippen, an almond grower and partner in the almond huller-sheller Travaille & Phippen in Manteca, said trash-hauling trucks on Jack Tone Road continually remind him of issues tied to Forward Landfill. The trucks exit off Highway 99 at Jack Tone, eventually turning left at Five Corners before taking French Camp Road into the facility. In the process, they pass by some of Phippen’s orchards and his huller-sheller operation just off Jack Tone.

“My complaint is the wear and tear on the road and building that huge mountain right in front of the airport,” he said. “That area to me is kind of the gateway to Stockton, and here we have a dump. To me, it’s the wrong thing for our county to be doing as an enterprise, and it’s certainly in the wrong place.”

Phippen noted that the county doesn’t have the budget to repair damage to roads, such as Jack Tone, so they remain rutted.

When the landfill first opened, it was a trench landfill where a long pit was dug, the refuse dumped in it and the hole covered up with soil. But those types of landfills aren’t permitted any more, so Forward operators pile up the material, eventually capping it with soil and a cover crop.

The ever-growing mountain of trash is visible just east of Highway 99 and is a constant eyesore, said Phippen, also a SJFB board member. 

“I just can’t believe that’s the vision for the city and what we want San Joaquin County to represent – being a landfill,” he said. “Where does that get us in the end game? I realize it provides some jobs, but it’s just the wrong thing for San Joaquin County to be focused on. There are so many good things we’re doing – let some other county have (the landfill).” Strecker agreed, saying Forward Landfill already has made a big enough impact on the county that it shouldn’t be allowed to expand further.

The trash pile also is on the glide path to Stockton Airport, Phippen said. The airport is experiencing increased commercial jet traffic as companies seek less congested runways and lower landing fees compared to the Bay Area.

In the past, concerns have been raised that birds attracted to the garbage could pose strike risks to approaching planes. Bird strikes were blamed for taking down a US Airways commercial jet, which Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed in the Hudson River near Manhatten, New York.

Even after the Forward Landfill shuts down, Phippen said the mountain left behind will hinder city of Stockton growth and development as well as other activities in the area.

Forward is one of three landfills 

Forward Landfill is considered a Class II and III site by the State Water Resources Control Board, meaning it can take non-hazardous and “designated” waste. Designated waste is either hazardous waste that has been granted a variance from hazardous waste management requirements. Or it is non-hazardous waste that under ambient environmental conditions at a landfill could be released in concentrated levels that exceed water quality standards. The privately run facility is owned by Phoenix-Arizona-based Republic Services Inc. 

Forward also is in addition to the two landfills that San Joaquin County operates. The larger 800-acre Foothills Sanitary Landfill near Linden has a predicted lifespan through 2082, and the smaller North County Recycling Center and Sanitary Landfill near Lodi is scheduled to close in 2046.

Only 31 percent of the material taken in by the Forward Landfill originates in San Joaquin County, according to the draft supplemental EIR. Another 33 percent comes from Sacramento County, and the remainder originates from Stanislaus, Santa Clara, El Dorado, Alameda and other unnamed counties.

“It’s one thing to be talking about a landfill that does a lot of great work locally, but this is someone that brings in their trash from elsewhere,” Blodgett said. “We continue to be a dumping ground. Why is it that the face of San Joaquin County should be that of a dump?”

Landfill’s proposed expansion history

The 2013 EIR included expanding operations onto an adjacent 184 acres southwest of the landfill. In addition, it would have realigned the South Forth of the South Littlejohns Creek and allowed cannery waste processing. Altogether, it would have increased landfill capacity by about 32 million cubic yards to 54 million cubic yards and extended the landfill life to about 2039.

But the proposal died in 2013. Because of its impacts to the Stockton Airport, at least four of the five supervisors needed to override the 1993 Airport Land-Use Plan and allow Forward to operate within 6,000 feet of the runway. The Federal Aviation Administration likes a 10,000-foot buffer. Only two supervisors voted “yea.”

In December 2014, Forward proposed a smaller expansion but abandoned plans before the final supplemental EIR was completed.

Fast forward to 2018, and landfill operators have proposed an expansion similar to the one in 2014. It has a smaller increase in permitted landfilling capacity compared to the 2013 project and does not include expansion of landfilling operations onto the 184-acre parcel.

The proposed expansion would make the following changes to the currently permitted operation, according to the supplemental EIR document:

Landfilling of an 8.7-acre parcel in the northeast portion of the site within the boundaries of the 567 acres under the current land-use permit approved by the board of supervisors on April 8, 2003.

Landfilling of approximately 8.6 acres in the south area.

The south area expansion would require realigning about 2,900 feet of the South Fork of South Littlejohns Creek along the southern and eastern boundaries of the site, along with adding a new bridge across the creek.

The expansion would increase total landfill capacity by up to 8.12 million cubic yards beyond current permitted levels. It would increase the remaining Class II landfill capacity by approximately 8.42 million cubic yards to approximately 25 million cubic yards from the current 15.7 million permitted cubic yards.

The expansion would allow disposal at the landfill to continue until approximately 2036, a six-year increase from the current anticipated closure date of 2030. 

The latest proposal contains some of the same mitigation measures as the 2013 EIR and some of the same ones that landfill operators should be following today. But Blodgett said that is part of the rub -- Forward continues to ignore many of those requirements.

And some of the requisites have taken on heightened importance with implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, he said. If food safety auditors find trash in a produce field, they could potentially reject the field and prevent harvest.

One of the few benefits contained in the draft supplemental EIR document will be land set aside for cannery waste processing, Blodgett said.