HANFORD — Chem Waste’s toxic waste landfill near Kettleman City has a green light to expand, according to a decision announced Wednesday by officials at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The department issued a permit approving the company’s plans to give its nearly-full hazmat landfill an additional 5.2 million metric tons of capacity.
According to Lily Quiroa, a Chem Waste spokeswoman, that will keep hazmat trucks rolling in and out of the Highway 41 facility west of Kettleman City for at least eight years.
“After an extensive and comprehensive scrutiny of our facility, we’re certainly pleased that DTSC has made the correct decision to provide us with this permit,” Quiroa said.
The approval pleased Kings County officials and Kettleman City officials. They made a deal with Chem Waste in 2009 to have the company pay off the Kettleman City Community Services District’s debt once the expansion becomes operational.
The debt payment is considered key to making a new water treatment facility affordable for the town’s low-income residents. The water facility is slated to start construction this year.
State officials touted the permit as a reflection of some of the toughest standards available. The permit includes stricter emission standards for trucks, more air monitoring, expanded analysis of landfill leachate, an improved containment system and increased inspections.
“This decision was based on a rigorous and comprehensive scientific analysis,” said Debbie Raphael, department director. “ ... It is informed by tremendous attention to community concerns.”
The department issued a conditional permit in July 2013 — five years after Chem Waste applied. The sheer number of public comments received after that — about 5,000 — prolonged the process, according to Raphael.
The department issued a 2,300-page response on its website, www.dtsc.ca.gov.
That response, plus the permit approval itself, did not satisfy Kettleman City activist Maricela Mares-Alatorre. She cited Kettleman City’s ongoing problems with multiple sources of pollution, including drinking water.
Mares-Alatorre indicated that her group — People for Clean Air and Water of Kettleman City — will appeal the department’s decision.
“I think that we were hoping that the fact that it took so long was because they were really considering the ramifications of additional pollution burdening Kettleman City, but obviously the dollar signs won out,” she said.
Mares-Alatorre was referring to the 10 percent tax on hazmat tipping fees that goes into Kings County coffers.
In past years, when the facility was operating at capacity, that tax has been as high as $7 million a year, according to Deb West, deputy county administrative officer.
“The county is very pleased that the project and the process is moving forward,” West said.
While appeals are being considered, Chem Waste can’t start construction — adding further delays to the process. Chem Waste must also obtain an additional permit from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. According to Quiroa, construction probably won’t begin until next year.
County officials are hoping that the water project can start this year in order to be finished in 2016. County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes indicated that county staff members would talk to state officials in an effort to move the process forward.
“We’ll have to work on that,” Spikes said.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SethN_HS.