Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Battle over Kettleman Hills landfill expansion continues

On Wednesday night, the tug of war continued over the proposed expansion of the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill near Interstate 5.

Activists protested at the California Department of Toxic Substance Control’s open house in Kettleman City. Among their complaints: Six people failed to get notification of the state’s proposal to allow expansion of the landfill.

As a result, state leaders extended the comment deadline from Sept. 4 to Oct. 7. But the Toxic Substance Control leaders said they had gone above and beyond the legal notification requirements.

The state agency said more than 630 people were notified, but six people who had asked for email notification apparently did not receive it. Officials said they agreed to the deadline extension because people had raised the issue.

Activists criticized Toxic Substance Control, including complaints about the agency not fully explaining past violations linked to the landfill. The activists, led by the People for Clean Air and Water and Greenaction, have said they will sue to stop the expansion.

The fight over the project heated up in 2008 after a tragic series of birth defects was discovered. Activists blamed the defects on “a toxic environment” surrounding Kettleman City.

Over the last few years, state and federal investigators conducted a thorough analysis and say they found no cause, adding there is no connection to the landfill.

Toxic Substance Control leaders say their study process on the issue was the most exhaustive in the agency’s history.

The agency has scheduled a public hearing in Kettleman City on Aug. 27.

Yosemite’s Merced River plan delayed again

Yosemite National Park‘s long-running effort to finish a protection plan for the Merced River just got a little longer.

The U.S. District Court in Fresno Thursday granted a delay in the controversial plan until Dec. 31. It was supposed to be completed by July 31 — a date set by a previous request for a delay. Yosemite needs time to process more than 30,000 comments received this year on the draft.

The National Park Service and the activist groups late Wednesday filed papers to push off the deadline, which adds time to an effort that already is more than a decade old. This is the third version of the plan since 2000. Previous versions were struck down by federal courts.

The current plan is a result of a lawsuit settlement between activists and the Park Service in 2009.

Park Service leaders say they are not reopening the comment period on the controversial plan, as business leaders and many others had hoped. Many had pushed hard this year to reopen the process because they opposed removing the ice rink at Curry Village and several other amenities.

The plan was attacked earlier this month in a hearing before the House of Representatives. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, led a Republican charge to leave the amenities untouched.

He termed the plan “exclusionary and elitist,” and asked, if facilities are removed from Yosemite Valley, “where does a dad go to get ice cream for a kid on a hot summer’s day?”

Activist groups, including Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, also want to negotiate the content of the draft. They and the Park Service are asking for time for that negotiation.

There were no specifics in court documents about the activists’ concerns.

 

Another complaint about hazardous waste site expansion

My Sunday story covered the money aspects of expanding the hazardous waste site near Kettleman City. One piece of the story just didn’t fit, and I mention it here because it illustrates how contentious the process has been.

Activists, who have long battled the nearby Waste Management Inc. landfill, say they didn’t like the Kings County-appointed committee that recommended many of the financial benefits on tap for Kettleman.

Among the benefits Waste Management agreed to provide if the expansion is approved: paying off a $552,000 debt on the town water system and donating $450,000 for school improvement.

Paying off the water system debt is no small favor for Kettleman City.  It will allow the state to provide $8 million for a water treatment plant — many consider it a leap forward for Kettleman City.

But the activists were rankled because there was only one Kettleman City resident on the committee.

The list included three people from Hanford and one each from Avenal, Laton and Lemoore. The county stands to gain $1.5 million annually in fees if the state allows expansion of the landfill.

The committee was stacked so that county approval of the landfill expansion was inevitable, the activists say.

“It was a joke,” said resident Maricela Mares Alatorre of the People for Clean Air and Water. “Where was the understanding of Kettleman City’s problems?”

Alatorre is also a full-time employee of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a national advocacy group with an office in San Francisco. She says activists will do whatever they can to stop the expansion, including filing suit.

For their part, Kings County officials said they had problems filling out the local committee that suggested the financial benefits for Kettleman City.

In the end, Supervisor Richard Valle said he was able to add Avenal resident Alvaro Preciado, who has family in Kettleman City and cares deeply about the issues in the town.

Activists challenge new ag groundwater order

The tug of war over California’s groundwater continues over a 1 million-acre swath of the San Joaquin Valley, north of the Fresno area.

For the last decade, the state has studied and discussed ways to protect groundwater beneath farm fields. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board late last year issued hard-fought orders for several thousand farmers north of the San Joaquin River.

Activists in early January told the state the orders don’t do the job, and they need to be rewritten.

Activists say farm chemicals and pollution would continue to pollute the water, monitoring would be inadequate and people in small towns would have to continue living with poor drinking water quality.

They asked that authorities stop the new orders for the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition in Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties.

The petitioners are community groups, including Asociacion de Gente por El Agua (AGUA), Fairmead Community and Friends, and Planada en Accion.

These challenges take time. The state will have nine months to respond.

If the challenge is denied, the next stop is probably Superior Court in Sacramento. The lawyers who filed the petition with the state are Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center and Phoebe Seaton of California Rural Legal Assistance.

The petition notes that it has been 13 years since legislation was passed requiring farm groundwater regulation. The disputes over the program may take a few more years to resolve.

This is the first large coalition in the Valley to come under the groundwater program.