Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

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.

Hazardous waste landfill leaders meet with Kettleman City

Hazardous waste landfill leaders met with folks in nearby Kettleman City this week about plans to renew a state operating permit. Kettleman activists continued to oppose it.

Since 2008, the activists, led by El Pueblo Parra el Aire y Agua Limpio, have slowed the landfill’s efforts, sparking a government investigation of birth defects. Investigators found no link between the landfill and Kettleman health problems.

The Kettleman City meeting this week was required as part of the process to get the permit renewal.

Such a renewal would usually be simple — it was in 2003 —  but  Waste Management Inc., owner and operator of the landfill, needs to expand. There’s almost no room left now for hazardous waste.

So the landfill’s future relies on expansion approval of at least four major government agencies, which are moving cautiously.

The four agencies are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Toxic Substances Control, the state Water Resources Control Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Waste Management is hoping for the expansion approval sometime this year. The state operating permit expires in June, but the company can continue to operate as long as its renewal application is received before the June expiration.

Meanwhile, activists say they will fight every step of the way. They say there is a connection to continuing cases of childhood cancer and mortality in Kettleman City.

Activists, led by resident Maricela Mares Alatorre, say they suspect there are simply too many environmental risks around Kettleman — including pesticides, diesel exhaust, contaminated drinking water and oilfield operations.

But no government agency tracks all the sources at once. In a story last month, The Fresno Bee featured Kettleman City’s multiple risks.