Protecting the Bay from Landfill Development in San José

Jun 24, 2011

The San José City Council recently declared that a full environmental impact report (EIR) is not required for a new energy production facility to be built on top of a closed landfill on the shore of San Francisco Bay. The project could have serious negative impacts on the health of the Bay, and Baykeeper is advocating for appropriate environmental review of the development.

The proposed project is a 270,000 ton per year dry fermentation anaerobic digestion facility. Anaerobic digestion is a process used to treat sewage and biodegradable waste and produce renewable energy. The facility would be built on top of the 41-acre Nine Par Landfill, located immediately north of the San José Wastewater Treatment Plant, on the shoreline of the Lower South Bay and adjacent to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

View Nine Par Landfill in a larger map

This landfill received various forms of waste from around 1938 to 1977 and was known to host an illegal and hazardous auto-wrecking operation in the 1970s. It is likely the landfill was never lined, and upon closure the landfill was merely covered with dirt. Since that time, the landfill has not been subject to routine water quality monitoring and has not been regulated according to modern standards.

Despite the fact that the facility would be located on an uncapped landfill and in an area that was once part of San Francisco Bay, the San José City Council approved a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which suggests the project would not result in any significant environmental impacts and that a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is not required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Baykeeper, as well as other environmental groups and interested regulatory agencies, believe otherwise and were surprised by the City Council's decision. While Baykeeper is not in opposition to the project – which will likely provide a sustainable source of energy to meet the needs of the future wastewater plant – we believe the City of San José must consider whether this site poses an existing risk to humans, the water quality of San Francisco Bay and protected species in close proximity to the site.

Some of our chief concerns are:

  • The City has not considered the potential water quality impacts associated with the construction and operations of the facility.
  • The facility is located in a flood-prone area according to Federal Emergency Management Area (FEMA) maps, and flood risks will likely worsen in decades with even small rates of sea level rise.
  • The proposed project could potentially disturb the underlying landfill and exacerbate existing groundwater contamination.
  • Recent data suggests that the site is a known source of pollutants, yet it has not been engineered to contain such contaminants and is not subject to routine monitoring or appropriate oversight.
  • Potential impacts to biological resources were not addressed in an initial study of the project. The site is located adjacent to a federal wildlife reserve hosting several protected species and we believe a thorough assessment should determine whether the project poses a risk.

Baykeeper will continue to monitor the project's progress and will advocate for the strongest possible protections to ensure the health of the Bay and its wildlife.

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