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Farmers Rally Against Plan to Expand Toland Dump

Sanitation: Nearby residents form group to fight the project, which they believe will hurt agriculture. But proposal is expected to be approved Thursday.


Fearing plans to expand the Toland Road Landfill near Santa Paula will hurt agriculture in the region, several dozen nearby farmers have formed a group to fight the proposal.

The group of more than 60 farmers has hired an attorney and plans to show up in force at Thursday's meeting of the Ventura Regional Sanitation District board of directors, where the project is expected to be approved.

Anita Nelson, who farms 52 acres of avocados, lemons and grapefruits about a quarter mile from the dump, said nearby residents had expected the district to reject the project. Instead, the board recently approved the proposal's environmental document, despite concluding that the project would worsen traffic and air quality in an area that already violates county standards.

"We have learned that landfills aren't good in anyone's backyard," said Nelson, a member of the group's steering committee. "It will be disastrous for agriculture surrounding the area."

Farmers fear an expanded landfill could contaminate ground water and increase traffic on the already-dangerous California 126, and that its dust could inhibit natural pest control methods.

But the district sees Toland, between Santa Paula and Fillmore, as the cheapest and most environmentally benign alternative to the Bailard Landfill in Oxnard, which is scheduled to close next year.

Toland is presently a regional landfill that accepts 130 tons of trash a day from Fillmore and Santa Paula. The expansion would mean as much as 1,500 tons of trash a day coming to the dump from throughout the west county.

Trash would be piled 200 feet higher than it is today, but officials say they are simply filling in a canyon rather than creating a trash mountain.

Dumping fees are estimated to drop from Bailard's $33 a ton to a range of $18-$23 a ton.

Ed McCombs, district general manager, said the board will endorse a plan on Thursday that cuts the anticipated vehicle trips to the site from a "worst-case" 450 a day to 210. That would be done by using larger trucks capable of carrying three times as much waste as a conventional garbage truck. Presently, about 70 vehicles head to the landfill daily.

"What it means is that with fewer trucks, there is less traffic, and that generates less air pollution and less noise," McCombs said.

Hauling trash to alternative sites that are farther away would cause more pollution than Toland, he said.

McCombs expects both the county Planning Commission and county Board of Supervisors to approve the project in April.

Meanwhile, Nelson is aware her group faces a tough battle to oppose the landfill. The region lacks political clout in comparison to the large communities that need a place to put their trash, she notes--a conclusion illustrated by the board's approval of the $1.3-million environmental document, despite its acknowledged problems.

"We really felt it would protect us and it hasn't, because it's a biased document," Nelson said. "Our agricultural viability in the Santa Clara Valley is up for grabs."

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