Neighbors’ complaints shut down green waste recycling

August 19, 2010


A battle over the smell of freshly ground greens has escalated to the point where most of San Luis Obispo County’s green waste composting will be eliminated, raising serious questions about the fate of the Cold Canyon Landfill.

On Sept. 1, Cold Canyon will begin trucking green waste to Santa Maria, the price will go from $20 a ton to $43 a ton with a small raise in curb rates. By the end of the month, the facility operators plan to have sold off any remaining compost.

“I buy their green waste and use it for landscaping,” said Larry Cusick, a local landscaper. “It is unbelievable that such a valuable service is no longer available.”

The Cold Canyon Landfill opened approximately 50 years ago, serves about 70 percent of the residents of San Luis Obispo County, while earning a reputation for having a high rate of recycling.

Twelve years ago, Cold Canyon began composting green waste. A few years later, the prior owner of the adjacent property sold four 40 acre parcels.

People who bought the properties soon built homes and moved next to the dump. This group of homeowners contends they thought the dump would be shut down when its latest permit expired, which is slated to occur in the next few years.

When the neighbors became aware that the plant’s operators had filed for a permit to extend the landfill portion of the facility, they joined together as a group and asked Bruce Falkenhagen, who owns a 40-acre parcel, to be their spokesperson.  They then started a concerted effort to shut down the Cold Canyon facility by lodging repeated complaints to regulators.

Following up on the neighbor’s complaints, the state sent investigators to check for composting odors.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery filed three odor violations against the facility for green waste smells in three months starting in April. As a result of three violations in three months, the state issued a cease and desist order for the green waste smells or the dump could be closed down.

State laws prohibit green waste odors, even the smell of Christmas trees, while allowing stronger odors to emanate from trash.

“The odor resembled freshly ground green material feedstock,” one violation said.

“It is not that it smelled bad,” landfill manager Tom Martin said. “If I grind Christmas trees and it smells like pine, it is a violation. Given these standards there is no way we can operate.”

In the past, San Luis Obispo County has received accolades and awards for their recycling programs and a diversion rate that is more than 60 percent. (Diversion rate is the percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional landfills to be recycled, composted or re-used.)

“In this day and age, when we know how important composting is, to be hauling this out of area is absolutely absurd,” said Jeff Buckingham, the president of Blue Rooster Telecom and an advocate for composting.

In early 2009, shortly after the Garbage Company began working on the permit process, the neighboring homeowners started making multiple smells and noise complaints.

“We saw a huge upswing in complaints in 2009,” said Karen Brooks, the San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control Board compliance section manager. “The record of complaints is forcing these issues.”

Since mid 2009, the neighbors have lodged almost 700 complaints with state and local government agencies, officials said.

Falkenhagan disagrees and claims that the neighbors starting making repeated complaints in 2004.

Officials at the dump contend they have had very few complaints until they began working on the permit and that the homeowners should have known there would be some odors before they built their homes next to the dump.

“They bought the land cheap because it is next to a landfill and then they complain that it smells,” Martin said. “They want to shut down the landfill completely.”

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill said the neighbors have the right to lodge noise and odor complaints. But noted there is a tradeoff to living near a dump.

“I would prefer that we can continue to compost,” Hill said. “That is why we have such a great diversion rate.”

Falkenhagan, who purchased 40 acres of land near the dump for $365,000 in 2000, objects to the argument that they purchased the land at a lower cost because of its location.

“While it appears that the neighbors are now being portrayed as whiners and we bought the property for cheap because it was near a landfill, I take issue with that,” Falkenhagan said in an email.  “When I bought in 2000, I paid a very high dollar for the land.”

Landfill officials contend that the neighbors have organized an email and phone tree to remind each other to send out complaints in an effort to close the dump.

In an email sent  Jan. 6 2010, Falkenhagan writes that the Cold Canyon’s EIR is reporting very few odor complaints. He urges his neighbors to correct that with email and calls to state and local government officials if they smell an odor. (The first circulated draft of the EIR was completed before the neighbors started filing multiple complaints.)

“I will be sending an email to all of you,” Falkenhagan says in the email. “Please go outside then and see if you smell anything. If you do, you make the same calls. This takes everyone if we hope to succeed.”

Falkenhagan said they oppose the extension because the smells are unbelievable and the county should stop using a landfill to dispose of trash.

If the landfill permit is not approved or the state shuts down the landfill because of the odors, Martin said the Garbage Company will most likely ship the county’s garbage to a landfill in Avenal. If that occurs, the cost to local businesses and residents is slated to double or triple.

Falkenhagan disagrees with the idea of shipping local garbage out of the area and has offered to build a modern waste-to-energy plant that produces energy through methane gases. He points out that waste to energy facilities are cleaner and expected to be the green garbage plants of the future.

While waste to energy plants can cost more than $100 million to build, Falkenhagan said he found a recently engineered facility that can be purchased for $25 million. The company has two plants operating at this time, one in Australia and another in Israel, Falkenhagan said.

“Anything that will be done to clean the environment or make the earth a better place will cost something,” Falkenhagan said. He added that the people of the county should not mind paying more for their trash disposal so that the neighbors of Cold Canyon will not have to smell trash for another 30 years–the length of time the landfill’s life will be extended it the pending permit is approved.

Even so, Martin argues that the cost to taxpayers includes higher operational costs and permitting costs making it unlikely the county would elect to put a burden on the community during a downturn in the economy.

He also points out that Falkenhagen paid a significant settlement for being one of Santa Barbara’s Counties most “egregious” polluters.

In the 1990’s, Falkenhagen was sued by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office for operating an energy power plant without the required air pollution control equipment and lying to the APCD to conceal the fact that his operation was releasing hundreds of tons of nitrogen oxides into the air.

Officials said Falkenhagen’s plant was one of the top stationary sources for air pollution in Santa Barbra County’s history.

Falkenhagan admitted to knowingly operating without the proper equipment. He paid a $155,000 fine and publicly apologized to the business community, according to a press release from the Santa Barbra District Attorney’s office.



  1. tapa says:

    If Tom Martin and his family were required to live on site the problems would go away. Cold Canyon has been operated in a culture of non compliance from the begining.
    Mr. Martin may be parroting Charlie Cattaneo. More likely he is channeling. If the quote were ‘(Squak) garbage in the streets’ it would be obvious. However I suspect his eyes rolled back in his head and went kinda buck toothed and hit the old song and dance.
    Any attempt to require operation within the laws and conditions would cost us more money and could result in garbage in the street.
    The dump keeps expanding into the buffer area and using the neighbors property as a sacrifice zone.
    When the county contracted with these people to compost the company said they could do it correctly, but obviously they can not.
    Now they are saying they must be allowed to pollute or it will cost more to sent the green waste to some one who can. They should pay the extra until the contract expires.
    Corporate shit stinks real compost doesn’t.

    (-10) 18 Total Votes - 4 up - 14 down
    • Sherlock says:

      The wind blows fairly well out in Edna Valley and continues across the landfill. When the wind blows it carries the smells with it. What really smells is Mr F and his neighbors pulling the wool over the Air Polution Control Board. No big suprise, since Mr. F has so much experience with the Air Pollution Boards. Watch him close the SLO dump off and collect a big settlement award, then for an encore, he’ll sell the property by our landfill and buy a chunk out by Casmalia to open a water bottling company! I’ll bet he’s “sniffing around” out there in Santa Barbara County right now…..

      (13) 13 Total Votes - 13 up - 0 down
  2. teebs says:

    Has anyone looked up the term NIMBY?. Not in my new backyard says Mr. Bruce Falkenhagen from LA… Wouldn’t it be great if the first expansion of the landfill was where the green waste area is being vacated per Mr Boo Boo. . Oh, and while you are on your witch hunt you should probably go after the real estate broker because she didn’t let you get out of the car and look around before buying, and the title company because you didn’t see the parcel map and landfill disclosures when you signed the grant deed. Real estate is all about location, location, location. Do your due diligence next time you buy real estate, or move back down to SB and open up a new power plant so I can complain….

    (15) 23 Total Votes - 19 up - 4 down
    • Martin D says:

      You obviously have no clue about the situation other thaqn what you have read in the Cal Coast news.

      (-6) 14 Total Votes - 4 up - 10 down
    • utube says:

      wreaks like charlie….trash begets trash….

      (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
  3. Paperboys says:

    There are no good solutions to this mess. At best, the garbage company/landfill owners should buy all the downwind properties and move everyone out.
    It would probably be cheaper than closing this dump and trying to build a new landfill. And I’m sorry that these folks might have to move out of paradise, but no place is so beautiful as to be willing to put up with ”horrific” odors, and I don’t care how long your family has lived on a piece of property, if it stinks that bad, then move.
    Landfills are ugly, smelly and dirty but they are also a necessary part of a civilized world. The handling of trash, and sewage too, are among the miracles of the industrial age. It’s one of the reasons that our cities can grow so large in populations, and our children can grow up relatively free of diseases like cholera and dysentery and other illnesses that thrive in filth and that still kill millions in third world countries across the globe.
    Our landfills were selected areas — essentially sacrificed — where society decided it would allow to be spoiled in order for our cities and communities to be clean. People should never have been allowed to build homes within 2 miles of the landfill,
    The garbage company or the County should go in and buy out everyone within a 2 mile arc around the dump. Move them out and don’t let anyone else in there forever.
    We spend millions every year preserving open space as buffers to civilization. So lets buy up these properties and return them to their natural states to act as a buffer for the dump.

    (6) 20 Total Votes - 13 up - 7 down
    • justme says:

      Paperboys, you need to befriend these folks. They need some of your beautiful insight because they are in dire need. Dumps are equal to Nuke plants in that they represent human folly more than anything else in this world except war. They need to sell their properties to establish a concrete loss, not a potential one, then hope the lawyers leave them something. I’m afraid this is nothing but a lawyer feast and a hard lesson for those involved.

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down

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