Court orders county to re-examine proposed Hinkley composting facility
BARSTOW — A Barstow judge finalized his order to San Bernardino County to revisit its approval of a proposed composting facility near Hinkley. The order means that the county will begin work on a new study of the environmental impacts of the facility, which has been the subject of a court battle for more than a year.
Judge John Vander Feer of the San Bernardino County Superior Court in Barstow issued a judgment on June 23, which made official the ruling he had issued on April 11. The order stated that the county must prepare a new environmental impact report on the Hawes Composting Facility slated to be built by Nursery Products LLC about eight miles west of Hinkley. The open-air facility approved by the county would mix semi-solid waste products, including human waste, with green materials to create compost. Community members in Hinkley have opposed the facility based on concerns about air and water contamination.
Vander Feer ruled that there were two issues with the environmental impact report prepared by Nursery Products that need to be addressed — it did not identify the water source to be used for the composting facility, and it did not examine the possibility of enclosing the composting operation in a building rather than constructing an open-air facility.
He ordered the county to suspend all physical work on the facility and set aside its existing environmental impact report and its approval of the project until those two issues can be resolved to the court’s satisfaction.
Now that the final judgment has been issued, opponents of the composting facility say that the county will be forced to start over in evaluating the proposal. Ingrid Brostrom, an attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which represents the Hinkley residents, said the judge’s final order means that the county will have to start over from scratch in its evaluation, rather than simply updating the existing environmental impact report and conditional use permit.
“The Board of Supervisors is basically going to have to reapprove the project, if that’s what they’re going to do,” she said. “... Basically, it’s going to give our clients and the county another chance to consider the costs of approving such a project.”
Chris Seney, director of operations with Nursery Products, said he does not anticipate much difficulty in fixing the two issues identified by the judge. The water for the facility will come from a well, he said. As for enclosing the composting facility, Seney said it would not only cost more but would produce more emissions, since an enclosed facility would need to run on electric power rather than solar power, which was expected to power the open-air facility.
Norm Diaz, an organizer with HelpHinkley.org, said that enclosing the facility would alleviate concerns about air and groundwater contamination from the composting operation.
“If you build a state-of-the-art enclosed facility that captures the gasses and the dust, I think we’d take it,” he said.
Nursery Products will pay for the additional work to be done on the environmental impact report, but contractors hired by the county will perform the work, said Nursery Products president Jeff Meberg. The initial environmental impact report cost about $280,000, Meberg said. He did not have an estimate of the cost of reworking the report but said the work will likely go quickly now that the judge has issued his final order.
Bart Brizzee, deputy county counsel with San Bernardino County, said the county still has to determine whether it will need to complete an entirely new environmental impact report or simply update the existing report.
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Air board extends deadline to comment on composting rules
BARSTOW — The Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District extended the deadline for public comment on preliminary draft rules that would govern composting facilities until Aug. 8.
The proposed rules, which were mailed out for public comment June 5, would require composting facilities that accept more than 100,000 wet tons of compostable material to be enclosed if the levels of very fine particulate matter in the air of the district rise above a federally-defined level. Under that rule, the Hawes Composting Facility would not currently be required to enclose its facilities, but could be required to in the future, if air contamination levels in the district rise, said supervising air quality engineer Alan De Salvio.
HelpHinkley.org members spoke at several air-board meetings and asked the board to enact a strict rule that would force Nursery Products to enclose the facility.
After the public comment period, the air board will likely hold a public workshop on the rule and will write another draft of the rule, which will be opened up to public comment again before it goes to the board for approval, De Salvio said.
Make public comments in writing by mailing them to MDAQMD at 14306 Park Avenue, Victorville, CA 92392.
To get a copy of the preliminary draft rule, call De Salvio at 760-245-1661 ext. 6726.