Landfill foes vent to tribe leaders
Foes of a landfill planned on a Colusa County reservation got to air their objections face to face with tribe leaders.
But though the two sides were only a few yards apart physically, it was unclear how much the political gulf is closing between Native Americans who see a moneymaker in a landfill — and residents fearing its runoff will foul their drinking water beyond the boundaries.
"I can't help but think the tribe is pretty desperate to accept a plan for a landfill," said Colleen Ferrini, a member of the opposition group Colusa Citizens for Safe Water. "I should hope we could work together for something better."
Monday's hearing at the Cortina Indian Rancheria, in the county's remote west, was a rare opportunity for neighboring farmers and ranchers to bring their complaints directly to the Cortina Band of Wintun Indians. But little new middle ground seemed to appear between opponents and the tribe's drive for financial self-reliance.
Tribe leaders are partnering with the Canadian waste management firm Earthworks Industries Inc. and Santa Rosa-based North Bay Corp., which would haul Sonoma County trash to the site. Earthworks and the Cortina tribe last year gave North Bay a half-interest in the project in exchange for a $16 million cash and loan package.
The main source of opponents' worry lies in the hilly terrain around the Cortina reservation — a grassy, rugged spread with sparse trees they declared would easily carry polluted water off the landfill to pastures, farms and ultimately the Sacramento River, especially during the rainy winters.
"The soil type can't hold any type of structure," Williams landholder Jerry Maltby told members of the Wintun Environmental Protection Agency. "I can tell you and show you the massive erosion in these hills - and that when they haven't been disturbed."
North Bay and the tribe have sought exemptions from federal design standards, including tarpaulin covers instead of earth, a clay liner in place of soil, and a waiver from earthquake resistance standards.
The project's manager, Bryce Howard, tried to win over some residents by pointing to design changes requested by the tribe — including mapping all springs within a mile of the 443-acre landfill site, stockpiling soil for covering waste, and planting native grasses for extra cover.
It was unclear how much the litany of complaints moved tribe officials present. Four members of the Wintun Environmental Protection Agency heard out the opponents but kept their own thoughts closely guarded. Wintun EPA's environmental compliance officer, Kesner Flores, did not say when the tribe and North Bay hope to start construction.
The campaign to reshape the landfill project comes after years of efforts to block the 12-year-old plan, in which trucks would initially deliver about 300 tons of refuse daily and eventually as much as 1,500 tons.
Colusa County sued the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2003, alleging the agency did not thoroughly account for the landfill's environmental effects, only to drop the suit after three years amid mounting legal fees. U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, has urged further environmental review, and the Williams City Council in April passed a resolution against the project.
Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter Howard Yune at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.