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Construction has been underway for six months on the Tajiguas ReSource Recovery Project — and is on schedule despite 50 days of rain and wind delays, officials said — but the ceremonial groundbreaking didn’t take place until Wednesday.

Once the $130.5 million project is completed, the ReSource Center is expected to divert an additional 60% of waste from going into the landfill, cut greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equal to 28,668 cars per year, generate enough energy to make it self-sustaining plus power 2,000 homes and provide 100 living-wage jobs.

Those were among the statistics speakers touted before throwing ceremonial golden shovels full of dirt for photographers and nearly 100 people who gathered at Santa Barbara County’s Tajiguas Landfill a few miles south of the Gaviota rest areas.

The center’s operation will also add about $6 a month to residential customers’ trash bills, said Leslie Wells, deputy director of the Public Works Department, who said that is “reasonable” for the benefits it will produce.

County officials said the center will handle solid waste from Santa Ynez Valley communities and a couple of trucks of waste per week from the Cuyama area, although most of the waste will come from South Coast communities.

First District Supervisor Das Williams pointed out it took 10 years to reach the construction phase of the project he said will help the county meet its state-mandated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

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Construction on the new anaerobic digester at the Tajiguas Landfill on the Gaviota Coast involves pouring "very robust" foundations, Santa Barbara County officials said.

“We can’t take decades to build projects like this,” Williams said, adding, “We have to litigate less (and) cooperate more.”

When the ReSource Center is in operation, truckloads of solid waste will be delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility the size of two Costcos, where it will be separated into three categories — recyclables, compostable materials and the remaining residue.

Wells said some people have questioned the county’s ability to sell the recyclables, especially mixed plastic, in a shrinking market, now that China is no longer buying them.

But she said China stopped buying recyclables because of the increasing cost of processing “dirty bales,” but this upgrade will allow the county go produce cleaner bales, and mixed plastic makes up less than 1%, by weight, of the waste stream.

“So we will not be affected by the lack of this market, and our project will continue to be cost-effective,” she said.

John Dewey of MSB Investors, which was contracted to develop and operate the facility, said the sorting will be done by 11 infrared optical scanners and 210 other pieces of equipment that will make it nearly fully automated.

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Santa Barbara County Public Works Director Scott McGolpin, right, introduces John Dewey of MSB Investors at the ceremonial groundbreaking held Wednesday for the new state-of-the-art Materials Recycling Facility and anaerobic digester at the Tajiguas Landfill on the Gaviota Coast.

Greenwaste and other biological materials like wood, food scraps and even pet feces will be trucked up the hill to the composting facility, where a “dry fermentation” process will produce biogas and 25,000 tons of compost annually from 16 individual modules.

The methane biogas will drive two new engines generating 5 megawatts of electricity that will be added to 1 megawatts produced by a solar electrovoltaic system for a total of 6 megawatts.

Compost generated by the facility will go to commercial and industrial uses, including Caltrans projects.

“This is a perfect example of thinking globally and acting locally,” Dewey said. “It’s an example of how good government works … .”

The ReSource Center will also give a new lease on life to the Tajiguas Landfill, which was on track to run out of space in just a few years.

On a tour of the site, project leader Carlyle A. Johnston pointed to trash being compacted before being covered by a layer of earth.

“Eventually, this will all be filled in,” Johnston said, then pointed to a hilltop a couple hundred feet above. “It will be as high as that hill. Normally, it would do that in eight years. With the ReSource Center, that will be 16 to 20 years.”

That will give the county a little more breathing room to find a site for the landfill that will eventually replace Tajiguas.

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Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.