Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of future compost operation

The group of neighbors has filed its second lawsuit in less than a year over compost operations at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill west of Cotati.|

A group of neighbors near Sonoma County’s Central Landfill west of Cotati are renewing their legal fight against a plan to use the dump as a long-term site for composting green waste, an operation they contend exposes them to foul odors and poses a threat to water and wildlife habitat.

The group, Renewed Efforts of Neighbors Against Landfill Expansion, filed its second lawsuit in less than a year against the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, this time challenging the environmental review of the future compost site, set to be constructed at Central Landfill.

The 15-page complaint, filed Wednesday, claims the study did not properly analyze impacts on air quality, traffic and endangered California tiger salamander habitat.

“It is clearly flawed - it’s near a school, it’s near neighborhoods and it has traffic problems,” said Roger Larsen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lives in the Happy Acres subdivision near the landfill, and who has fought the project for years. “I’ve been watching this for a long time, and problem after problem keeps coming up.”

The lawsuit seeks to have the court shelve the current environmental review and order a new study be prepared. It also seeks to vacate the waste agency’s approval of the new compost site.

The Waste Management Agency voted unanimously June 24 to stay at the Central Landfill and construct a new $52 million facility just west of the current composting site. The agency chose the Cotati-?area site over a larger property off Stage Gulch Road east of Petaluma, calling the landfill site a better environmental alternative.

The group of landfill neighbors strongly disagree.

“The other site is more fiscally and environmentally responsible,” Larsen said. “The Central Landfill site has other significant problems ... with the endangered tiger salamander and what to do with their wastewater. It’s like they’re choosing what facts to use to support that site.”

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents the county on the Waste Management Agency, declined Thursday to comment on details of the lawsuit, saying board members hadn’t yet received it. Other board members did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Larsen, in a particular, has been a vocal foe of composting operations at the landfill.

He and other neighbors in May signed a deal settling a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit that named the Waste Management Agency and the county. Neighbors filed that lawsuit last August, alleging that wastewater runoff from the current compost site - run by the Petaluma company Sonoma Compost - had been polluting nearby Stemple Creek for years.

The deal calls for Sonoma Compost to vacate the site by Oct. 15. The company has stopped taking green waste from garbage trucks, while still accepting material from self-haulers. The operation is on track to completely shut down by fall.

Henry Mikus, executive director of the Waste Management Agency, said he expected neighbors to challenge the future composting site.

“We knew this was coming; Roger (Larsen) made it no secret,” Mikus said. “Obviously it will delay the project.”

Mikus said the Waste Management Agency already has begun hauling green waste to landfills that can accept it, including in Mendocino, Marin and Solano counties.

Hauling green waste out of Sonoma County costs about $1.5 million more annually, Mikus said, for a total of $5 million per year.

Much of that is being passed on to ratepayers, who are seeing curbside pickup fees rise from 92 cents to $2.16 per month - slightly lower than originally expected.

“We ended up not having to raise rates as much as we thought we would,” Mikus said. “Part of that is because Ratto (the hauling company) is willing to drop off (yard material) at other sites.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or On Twitter @ahartreports.

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