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Farmers: Enough garbage already
Coalition fights expansion of Austin Road landfill
More than 70 percent of the garbage buried at the Austin Road landfill is imported from other counties. - photo by Photo Contributed

Bruce Blodgett flippantly refers to the massive landfill to the east of Highway 99 in the direct flight approach to Stockton Metro Airport as “Mt. Stockton.”
At 200 feet and growing it is the tallest point in Stockton.
But it’s what you don’t see that Blodgett, the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau executive director, believes is no joking matter.
That includes:
•Groundwater contamination that has forced nearby residents to rely on bottled water for drinking.
•The loss of another 184 acres of prime farmland.
•An attractive nuisance that draws seagulls to scavenge among garbage posing safety concerns for aircraft landing and taking off from Stockton Metro Airport.
Blodgett is part of a coalition of farmers, environmentalists, rural residents and pilots trying to rally support in a bid to persuade the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisor from allowing the privately owned Forward Landfill from expanding operations.
The board is scheduled to vote on the plan Tuesday, Sept., 24, at 1:30 p.m. when they meet on the sixth floor of the county administrative center, 44 N. San Joaquin St., Stockton.
County planning documents show Forward Landfill wants to increase its capacity by more than 100 percent to 55.1 million cubic yards. That will allow the facility to continue taking in garbage through 2039. At the current pace, the landfill will reach capacity in 2021. In both cases, that assumes 72 percent of the garbage buried there won’t originate from San Joaquin County.
The state website Cal Recycle notes that 72 percent of the waste processed at Forward Landfill is imported into the county primarily from the Bay Area as well as from out of California.
C currently 600 trucks a day haul garage to the site. One plan called for that number to increase to 900 a day at the facility on North Austin Road some 7.2 miles northeast of downtown Manteca. The landfill is within the boundaries of the Manteca Unified School District and is considered part of rural north Manteca
Manteca farmers Jeannie and Michael LaForge founded the non-profit Clean San Joaquin to combat expansion of the landfill that has racked up numerous violations including contaminating ground water, allowing underground fires to burn for months, and operating a composing facility without a proper permit.
The Federal Aviation Administration views landfills are incompatible with safer airport operations due to how they attract scavenger birds. Planes leaving and arriving at Stockton Metro Airport have recorded 19 bird strikes since 1990. Forward Landfill has deployed falcons in a bid to reduce the bird population.
Bay Area resident and retired commercial airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger has come out against the landfill expansion due to the threat it creates for aviation. Sullenbeger was the captain of the commercial jetliner that had its engines knocked out by birds forcing an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York.
“We are very concerned about the Forward Landfill expansion from a food safety standpoint but we are just as concerned about flight safety as private and commercial airplanes expand their use of Stockton Airport,” Blodgett said.  “We are also concerned about water quality for the surrounding farms and crops that are grown near the landfill and how water contamination will have serious implications if there is a food or health scare related to our county’s agriculture.” 
Blodgett noted there was no objection to the county approved expansion of the Foothill Sanitary Landfill east of Lodi. The recent expansion at the county’s largest landfill didn’t garner opposition as there was no prime farmland involved or issues with groundwater contamination or creating a hazard for aviation traffic.
The Foothill Landfill primarily takes in-county garbage from various cities. It has capacity to serve the county until 2055.
Blodgett has stated that many farmers have voiced their concerns as well as other members of the community including the Interim Director of the Stockton Metro Airport, Andy Chesley from San Joaquin County of Governments, the Aircraft Owners & Pilot’s Association, and RJ Tutt Aviation to name a few.   
The farmers’ concern is based on the existing record of groundwater contamination. They fear the landfill expansion could render underground water sources useless through contamination.