Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include the approval of the transfer station. Scroll down for the latest update.
FORT BRAGG, CA, 10/19/22 — C&S Waste Solutions is seeking to create a new garbage transfer station on an ocean view property east of Highway 1 at Virgin Creek at the north end of Fort Bragg city limits. A Public Hearing for requests for a Use Permit, Mitigated Negative Declaration and a Zoning Determination for the 1280 N. Main Street property will be held today the Fort Bragg Planning Commission meeting at 6 p.m at Town Hall and by Zoom (link below).
Garbage would be transferred from route trucks to larger trailers to be hauled to Willits, but no garbage would be retained on site for more than 24 hours. The project is mostly parking and storage and involves little in the way of building construction, according to the staff report. The city staff proposes 32 special conditions for the project to move forward.
The front of the property is currently heavily used for public parking, so that hikers can get to the haul road or to Fort Bragg’s most popular surfing spot. That part of the property will apparently be left as is. There is nothing stated in the conditions explaining how this will work.The transfer station development would all be located out of sight of the road, over a hundred yards up a gravel road that will be turned into a paved road under the plans, but kept the same width.
The company’s plans proposed to the planning commission include installation of six-foot open weave livestock fencing (similar to coastal trail fencing) along the west property line, and installation of a security gate. This area is now used by hikers and surfers to park and by fruit and firewood vendors to sell their goods. A map indicates the area will not be part of the development but there is nothing in the special conditions and no visible effort by the city to make this a long term requirement.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife objected in written comments to the fencing proposed on the property, including along the outside of the publicly used lot, saying it would deter wildlife, and has suggested “symbolic fencing” that would deter humans but let wildlife pass through. Recently, plastic fencing went up on the site that blocks entrance to the dune area from the still-used parking area.
The sandy, dune-like terrain visible from the road just east of roadside parking won’t be developed, said Ben Holaway, site manager for C&S. Holaway was interviewed briefly on a Tuesday afternoon visit by this reporter to the site. C&S is already operating on the property, apparently under a temporary use permit, and is seeking a permanent use permit (the Mendocino Voice was unable to connect with city officials before publication).
Virgin Creek is considered a sensitive environmental area, with a strict no-dogs policy along the creek and the beach. Surfers had been scarce over the past two weeks, as great white shark warning signs were posted in early October. Those signs were gone on Tuesday, and four different surfers were interviewed who didn’t want to use their names. All said they knew nothing about the project. Holaway said there was no specific timetable for the project to be completed. He said it could take more than a year, depending on the permitting process. The station would eventually employ 10 people.
The city report on the project says Waste Management has been unwilling to sell its old 219 Pudding Creek Road transfer station, thus forcing C&S to look for a new site.
Why? “Unfortunately, Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and the Fort Bragg City Council voted to give their hauling and disposal contracts to a different company,” said Waste Management (WM) Northern California-Nevada Spokesman Paul T. Rosynsky.
“WM would have loved to continue its decades-long service to the community and was looking forward to investing resources to ensure expanded service and better value for residents and businesses. WM has decided to keep its property on Pudding Creek Road in hopes of returning to serve the community.”.
C&S was the low bidder for both city and county areas of Fort Bragg in 2021. C&S Waste currently provides waste management services to small cities and county areas throughout Lake, Lassen, Mendocino and Sonoma counties.
The proposed direct transfer operation and associated vehicle parking would occupy 78,000 square feet, including a 7,500-square-foot area for direct transfer of garbage from route trucks to special trailers. The new area will not offer any place for the public to pay their bills or drop off recycling, as did the Pudding Creek location. Waste Management had a buyback center at Pudding Creek and people could also drop off mixed recycling and cardboard. There are hopes to open a buy-back center in Albion, Holaway said. C&S has an office for the public at 325 Redwood Street in Fort Bragg, but there is no buy-back center along the entire coast from Westport to Navarro. Those who want to sell empty bottles and cans must drive two hours to do so.
As a practical matter, there has been no regularly available place to drop off paid recycling on the coast since February 2020, due to the pandemic and rescheduling by WM in its final months.
The city report says the property has been previously developed. That development featured a batch plant during the building of the Noyo Bridge, storage by Caltrans during various projects, but none was permanent.
The city’s staff report states, “Initially C&S Waste sought to include a recycling buy-back center at the proposed project site, as well as the transfer station, however Caltrans would have required significant frontage improvements for the buy-back center including a northbound right turn pocket and a southbound turnout. These improvements made the project financially infeasible for the applicant.” Besides the parking and use difficulties, the site choice poses environmental challenges. An endangered flower could create problems.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife comments said the botanical assessment period that took place April 6-April 13, 2022 was not sufficient to determine the potential impacts of development on the site.
“For example, one species with insufficient survey coverage is Howell’s spineflower, which is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The California Natural Diversity Database contains documented occurrences of this species in nearby areas west of the project property. The botanical surveys as conducted do not capture May-July, the bloom window for Howell’s spineflower.”
The site would also feature a ten-space truck parking area, a thirteen-space parking lot for employees, and a storage area for forklift, bins and carts. None of this is final and could be altered in discussions with the city.
“Wednesday night’s planning commission meeting is regarding a facility for our vehicles only, which will lessen truck trips, which in turn reduces our footprint and exposure,” said Bruce McCracken of C&S Waste Solutions in a brief Tuesday night interview by email.
Many people are surprised that Fort Bragg City limits extend so far north, but much of the current industrial base of the city ise located north of Pudding Creek, including propane facilities, a large gravel plant and more. The city’s northern boundary extends in a narrow tunnel along Highway 1 on the other side of Pudding Creek.
The nearest city water main is about 1700 feet away, and the nearest sewer main is about 2000 feet away, according to the city public works department. The garbage company will be allowed to use the existing well under the plans. The garbage company would also be allowed to use a pit toilet, to be approved at the time of building permit.
“The City plans to extend their utilities to the vicinity of this project. The applicant may be obliged to pay their ‘fair share’ of future improvements to the system at the time of any extension that benefits the property,” a city public works report stated.
The Mendocino County assessor’s office lists Aleandro Sarti, Richard L. and Marisa J Nelepovitz, Robert J and Donna N Rossi as the owners of 1280 N. Main Street. These are local business people involved in the ownership of Rossi’s building materials and other businesses. The property is being leased to C&S with an option to buy, likely depending on the outcome of the permitting.
There are still many hurdles to jump for C&S. Prior to beginning construction, the company is required to hire a qualified tribal monitor to assist in implementation of all cultural resources mitigation measures. C&S is required to post a bond and engage in a five-year-long weed abatement program that includes hand and mechanical pulling of the large pampas grass clumps that currently overwhelm native plants on the property. Other invasive plants will also be removed on an annual basis. Herbicide use is prohibited due to the sensitive and rare plants located on the site. The bond will be returned at the end of five years upon the city determining that the invasive plants have been eliminated from the site. Connection to city water will require installation of an approved backflow device. No trash can stay on site for more than 24 hours to deter ravens and rats.
Also on the Fort Bragg Planning Commission agenda is a proposal by applicant Hussein Alzghoul to remove underground storage tanks, installed in 1974 at a gas station at 225 N. Main Stree that has been closed for about five years.
Update 10/20/22 — At Wednesday’s meeting, the Fort Bragg Planning Commission voted 4-0, with commissioner MIchelle Roberts absent, to approve the use permit and the mitigated negative declaration to allow the C&S transfer station project to move forward. Commissioners praised the proposal, while at least one neighborhood group opposed it. Commissioners and the public praised the company for finding a way to get trucks off the road to Willits by transferring route trucks to larger trailer trucks. Traffic will increase for the north Fort Bragg area.
Fort Bragg resident Leslie Kashiwada was one of several people who argued for the taking of Waste Management’s Pudding Creek facility by eminent domain, which would eliminate the need to develop a separate transfer facility. Referring to the city’s staff report, she said, “There was only brief mention that C&S Waste Solutions offered to buy the Pudding Creek facility from Waste Management, who refused to sell it. If ever there was a case for eminent domain, it would be for the joint powers to claim this site. Such a valuable community service should not be held hostage by a private company.” The joint powers Kashiwada speaks of are Fort Bragg and Mendocino County, which have authority to take a property by eminent domain. The owner of such a property receives fair market value for it and tax benefits not available in a regular sale.
Waste Management, in a statement to the Mendocino Voice, said the company has held onto the property because it hopes to regain the solid waste contract it lost to C&S. Commissioners said that eminent domain could not be addressed as it was not on the agenda of Wednesday night’s meeting.
C&S spokesmen said that the parking area used for surfers and beach walkers is not part of the project. A fence will be installed to the east of the parking lot and around other areas. There was no explanation given about who would maintain the lot, which has large dips in it and puddles during rainy season, or if the vendors who sell there regularly would still be allowed. Maintaining the lot for public parking was not part of the 32 conditions the city suggested in its staff report, all of which the company accepted, presumably because it is outside the project area for now. The project was cut in half since its July 2022 filing, after it became evident that major road changes would be needed, and the property was too sensitive environmentally.
The meeting went very smoothly, with commissioners praising the work of Marie Jones, formerly Fort Bragg’s head of community development, who was hired as a consultant for this project. She described how problems brought up by the California Department of Fish and Game were negotiated into compromise before the meeting. The conditions were very narrowly focused on what was required of the company at the site. There was nothing in the staff report about what comes next, the buy-back center, or the future of the public parking.
“I am unhappy that there is no buy-back center or hazardous waste drop-off. I understand this site can’t accommodate those services and I agree with that assessment. However, we need those services here on the coast, and this document doesn’t mention how they will be provided, ” Kashiwada said.
One subject that was discussed by both commissioners and the public was worries over pedestrians being struck by cars as they cross the road for beach use. Jones reported that Caltrans had not reported any encounters between cars and pedestrians and only a few car accidents. One speaker said it might be safer for pedestrians to have the big trucks stopping to turn left and turning right into the new transfer station.
Sidewalks are usually demanded by the city for such a development, but not in this project. The city has not sought sidewalk construction in its extreme northern corridor in the past, and none of the commissioners thought requiring those would be a good idea. The garbage company also said it had moved into a property to the north of the project property. That property has a bathroom for employees and a shop for trucks. (Sidewalks will be installed as part of the Hare Creek bridge project, so some sidewalks will go in on the north end of town.)
The decision by the planning commission can be appealed to the city council, but otherwise would go forward. No timetable was given for the construction, and no mention was made of the property owners or details of a lease on the land. The pullout spot is known as “virgin creek” in surfer journals and local vernacular as it leads to the outlet for that creek. Runoff from all the industrial sites in that area eventually ends up in the meandering creek, which can be seen where it crosses the road near the Montessori Del Mar Community School.