| For Immediate Release: Dec. 7, 2006
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Community Featured in Film “Erin Brockovich”
Environmental Justice and Conservation Groups Appeal Planning Commission
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Today, the Center for Biological Diversity, Helphinkley.org, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment filed an appeal with the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors seeking to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of an open-air sewage sludge treatment facility near the community of Hinkley, Calif. The proposed project would allow more than 500 daily vehicle trips to truck up to 2,000 tons of sewage sludge per day from up to 200 miles away in the Inland Empire to this small desert community. It would also spread the waste—400,000 tons processed per year—across 160 acres of pristine desert habitat.
The project would increase traffic, air pollution, greenhouse gases, VOCs and noxious odors as well as potentially introducing non-native invasive weeds, impacting water quality, increasing wildfire danger and destroying habitat occupied by the threatened Desert Tortoise and other species. The county refused to consider requiring an enclosed facility and failed to adequately address the many environmental impacts of the project.
Sewage sludge contains many dangerous pathogens, metals, pesticides and fungi that can cause disease in both humans and animals. “For our local citizens, especially the young and old, who already have compromised health issues, this project adds insult to injury,” said Norman Diaz of Helphinkley.org, a local citizen’s group fighting to keep the sludge out of their town. The citizens of Hinkley have been dealing with the toxic legacy of hexavalent chromium 6 contamination for decades. Their plight was portrayed in the Hollywood film “Erin Brockovich.”
Diaz stated that “it is completely irresponsible of the county to approve this project less than eight miles directly upwind from our local elementary school that my own kids and 350 other children attend and less than three miles upwind from some local residences. They are rushing this project through without proper environmental review and public input.”
“The proposed project represents obsolete technology for dealing with sewage sludge,” said Kassie Siegel, Climate, Air, and Energy Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county refused to even consider available state of the art techniques to reduce greenhouse gas and other air pollution as required by law. The county needs to enter the 21st Century with regard to its management of these wastes.”
The groups also are concerned that the county is dumping this sewage sludge project on this small community without adequate public notice or any public approval. The county refused to provide any information about the project in Spanish in an area where approximately 40 percent of the residents are Spanish speakers and many requested information in Spanish.
“California law requires that the public be informed and able to participate in the planning process. The county’s refusal to accommodate the local Spanish-speaking community is indefensible,” said Ingrid Brostrom, attorney with the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. Brostrom noted that a similar project was located near Kettleman City, a small town in the Central Valley with a majority of Spanish speaking citizens. “In that case the community was also shut out of the planning process but once the impacts of the facility became known to local residents the county had to shut it down,” she said. Another facility operated by Nursery Products, LLC, in Adelanto also was shut down due to air pollution, health, odor complaints and many permit violations.
Jane Williams of Desert Citizens Against Pollution, a group that has fought off many waste dumps in the desert, emphasized, “The California deserts are not empty spaces waiting to be filled with the trash of the more populated areas of the state. These fragile and beautiful lands are home to many people, to wildlife, and to our cultural heritage. We are appealing the Planning Commission decision in the hope that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors won’t make the same mistakes here that were made elsewhere. This project is both badly designed and in the wrong place, the county should not let it go forward.”