A composting and recycling facility in the heart of Napa Valley received county Planning Commission approval for changes that will ultimately allow Upvalley residents to recycle food waste.
Some rural neighbors are concerned. Neighbor John Williams said that, while he understands the community need for the facility, neighbors experience the downsides of composting already done there.
“The quality-of-life degradation that comes from that smell is really beyond the pale,” Williams told the Planning Commission on Wednesday morning.
Commissioner Mike Basayne said a composting facility is not necessarily enjoyable for neighbors. Still, he said, Upper Valley Disposal Service is trying to improve necessary infrastructure.
“This facility is not perfect,” Basayne said. “But it is the best and most efficient way to address our community needs.”
Upper Valley Disposal Service opened the facility in 1966 at 1285 Whitehall Lane southeast of St. Helena, a third of a mile west of Highway 29. Here, yard waste from 6,000 homes is combined with grape pomace to create compost for vineyards, the project application said.
The facility started by Bob Pestoni also composts food from restaurants and grocery stores. Upper Valley Disposal Service wants to expand the program so residents in and near Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga can toss food scraps into their green waste recycling carts, as is done in the city of Napa. That could happen late this year or in early 2019.
Commissioners approved an increase in annual food material composting from 1,950 tons to 4,500 tons. Overall composting remains at 34,000 tons annually.
In addition, they approved construction of a 15,000-square-foot concrete building to enclose the composting blending area. They approved construction of a compressed natural gas refueling pump so the truck fleet can transition away from diesel.
The commission heard concerns from several neighbors in both testimony and in letters.
“The putrid smells that waft over our neighborhood need to be controlled,” neighbors Frank and Beth Leeds wrote to the county. “The dumping of glass late at night needs to be stopped. The loud banging to empty the dump trucks needs to happen during normal business hours.”
Steve Lederer spoke on behalf of the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency, the public agency that oversees the franchise agreement with Upper Valley Disposal Service.
The Whitehall Lane recycling facility in a perfect world it would be located somewhere else, Lederer said. But it is where it is and everyone is doing their best to make the situation work, he said.
St. Helena supported the facility changes. Compressed natural gas trucks will be quieter and pollute less. The proposal for residential food waste recycling is important, Mayor Alan Galbraith wrote.
“By upgrading the facility, our community will be able to meet and comply with changing state regulations requiring organics be removed from all California landfills starting in 2020,” Galbraith wrote.
Calistoga and Yountville also supported Upper Valley Disposal Service’s request. Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning wrote the changes will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the landfill and mean less garbage in his garbage container.
Commissioner Jeri Hansen asked why all recycling and composting activities couldn’t be done at Upper Valley Disposal Service’s Clover Flat Landfill in the hills near Calistoga.
“Clover Flat isn’t flat,” said Rob Anglin on behalf of Upper Valley Disposal Service. “It’s actually a canyon … We don’t have the space there to accommodate all these activities.”
Some residents said they didn’t receive enough notice about the project and requested the Planning Commission postpone the hearing. Anglin said the company reached out to neighbors. For example, Supervisor Diane Dillon and Lederer held a community meeting in March 2017.
“We’re not sneaky at all here,” Anglin said. “We’re about as sneaky as a freight train.”
Anglin said hearing delays are a problem because Upper Valley Disposal Service must obtain other permits, such as from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The state requires 50 percent of organics to be diverted from landfills by 2020.
The Planning Commission approved the Upper Valley Disposal Service requests by a 4-0 vote. Commissioners Basayne, Anne Cottrell, Joelle Gallagher and Hansen voted “yes,” with commissioner Terry Scott absent.