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High-Tech Recycling Sorter Is OKd for San Marcos Landfill : Garbage: Action is seen as way to extend life of dump. Opponents say system is too expensive.

September 18, 1991|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seeking to extend the life of county landfills, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved construction of an $85.6-million plant that will sort recyclable material from the mountains of trash produced by North County's rapidly growing population.

When the facility begins operating in 1994, the sophisticated recycling system will pluck paper, metals, glass and plastic from more than 550,000 tons of trash delivered to the plant annually, shredding most of the rest. The effect would be a 33% reduction in the volume of trash headed for North County's San Marcos landfill, county officials predicted.

"We're gratified that we could get on with this project that San Diego County, and hopefully even all the adjoining cities, could be proud of in years to come," said Jerry Davis, president of Thermo Electron Energy Systems, the giant company that has invested about $30 million in its bid to build the recycling plant and a companion waste-to-energy incinerator that was scuttled Aug. 6 by the supervisors.

The recycling facility was to have been the first phase of that $325-million project, but now will stand alone on a 16-acre site at the San Marcos landfill. The landfill, which is just months from reaching capacity, is targeted for expansion if county officials can secure needed permits and if a lawsuit does not block their efforts.

The board voted, 4 to 1, for the recycling plant after about three hours of discussion and public testimony, with North County Supervisor John MacDonald dissenting. MacDonald objected to the inclusion of the shredder technology and a provision in the contract with Thermo Electron that could result in the county paying as much as $9.4 million of the costs incurred by the company so far.

Supervisors Leon Williams, Susan Golding and George Bailey also questioned those and other payments, and at one point Tuesday morning appeared ready to postpone a decision on the project.

But, when a consultant said that even a day's delay would jeopardize the county's access to the California Pollution Control Financing Authority bonds authorized six years ago, the supervisors agreed to vote Tuesday if differences could be ironed out at a lunch-hour negotiating session.

Opponents of the facility painted it as an expensive answer to state-mandated recycling programs, asserting that the supervisors could secure a more efficient, less expensive alternative if they broke their ties to Thermo Electron and accepted competitive bids for a new project.

Under the deal reached Tuesday, more than $100 million will be borrowed to pay the $85.6-million construction cost of the plant, $6.3 million in financing costs, $2.7 million for a conditional use permit and other costs.

The county also will pay Thermo Electron as much as $9.4 million for past engineering, legal and technical expenses if the company can prove the costs were incurred for the recycling plant and not the incinerator.

The costs will be paid by an estimated $5- to $10-per-ton increase in the fees paid by trash haulers, an expense that will be passed on to residents. Each family produces about a ton of trash annually, county officials said.

The county and Thermo Electron will split revenue from the sale of recyclable material up to a limit of $6 million. Any additional revenue generated by the sale of recyclables will go to the company. Davis estimated that his firm will earn a profit of about $1 million, not including revenue from the sale of the material.

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