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Hurdle Is Cleared for Recycling Plant

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposed trash recycling and shredding plant at the San Marcos county landfill won $140 million in no-interest state bond funding Wednesday.

The action successfully ends a six-year effort by San Diego County and a private firm to obtain low-cost financing to build the trash treatment plant.

The three-member state Pollution Control Financing Authority voted unanimously to approve release of the bonds, which have been held in escrow by the state since they were issued in December, 1985.

Yearly efforts to release the bond funds were postponed by the state authority because of widespread local opposition to one part of the trash-handling facility--a controversial trash-to-energy plant that opponents said would spread potentially toxic air pollution throughout North County.

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County supervisors voted in August to cancel an agreement with Boston-based Thermo Electron Inc. to build and operate the trash-burning power plant at the landfill site. Also, four North County cities dropped out of lawsuits challenging the project after receiving guarantees that the incinerator portion of the project would not be built. But plans went forward for the recycling and shredding plant, which is expected to cost $90 million, $50 million less than the bond money approved.

Opponents of the recycling plant say the $50 million extra might end up being used to build the trash-to-energy plant. But supporters of the recycling facility say the money is simply a cushion against unforeseen expenses.

The recycling plant will process about half of the 1.1-million tons of trash produced daily in North County. Recyclable materials will be separated and sold. The rest of the trash will be shredded and compacted to cut down on the amount of landfill space required.

William Worrell, deputy director of the county’s solid waste management division, said the Sacramento hearing went quickly and smoothly, with only four people speaking against the recycling plant. In contrast, past hearings have brought dozens of opposing groups protesting the potential pollution and escalating costs that the trash-to-energy plant threatened.

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Among Wednesday’s opposing speakers were representatives from the state prison industries agency concerned that the San Marcos recycling facility might endanger a recycling plan at Donovan State Prison on Otay Mesa.

Also speaking against the release of the state bonds was Michael Hogan, attorney representing Christward Ministries and two citizens groups opposing the recycling plant and the proposed expansion of the adjacent county landfill, which is due to close in January unless granted permits to double its size and capacity.

Christward, which operates a religious retreat near the landfill, and two citizens groups, North County Concerned Citizens and Citizens for Healthy Air in San Marcos, are continuing their lawsuit challenging the recycling facility. The groups also have filed a new lawsuit aimed at halting the construction of the trash processing plant.

San Diego County Supervisor Leon Williams said the state authority’s ruling “is a great benefit to the county of San Diego and assures that the facility will be built.”

Worrell said the bond funds will be delivered to the county Jan. 2, and construction on the plant will begin shortly after that. The plant should be built and in operation by early 1994, he said.

County officials still are seeking approvals from several state and federal agencies to expand the landfill, he said, but the recycling facility will be built whether or not the expansion is approved.

Low-cost financing of the recycling plant will save the average household from $4.50 to $5 on monthly trash bills, proponents said. Sale of recycled materials will help pay for operating the plant.

Worrell said the county will seek to acquire the contract between Thermo Electron and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. for sale of power generated from the now-dead trash-to-energy plant in order to sell power from other county projects to SDG&E; under the favorable terms of the contract.

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