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Deal Could Expand Whittier Landfill : From Dump, View of Future is Bright

November 02, 1986|SUE CORRALES | Community Correspondent

WHITTIER — While most cities in Los Angeles County are struggling to find landfill space, Whittier officials are confident that they will close a land deal that could add 30 years of useful life to the only city-operated dump in the Southeast area.

City officials consider the dump their single greatest asset. The landfill at Savage Canyon is well-hidden, not very controversial, and a good money-maker. Instead of being out in the boondocks, it's a short trip from downtown Whittier. Also, refuse collection rates are cheaper than average here.

Best of all, while every major landfill area in Los Angeles County is expected to be full by 1993 (under existing permits), Whittier's dump may be in business until 2036.

The Savage Canyon landfill accommodates all of Whittier's nontoxic garbage, but none from anywhere else. Garbage trucks must rumble through middle-class neighborhoods to reach them, and city officials say they are unwilling to add to the traffic.

Promising Land Deal

Besides, by staying selfish, they expect to keep their landfill open until 2006 using existing space, and for 30 years beyond that if the promising land deal goes through.

Under serious negotiation since early 1985, the deal would trade about 20 acres of city-owned property, plus some cash, for 35 to 45 acres of privately owned land next to the dump. The land, which is mostly east of the landfill, is oil-producing property owned by Chevron USA. The city property, also oil-producing, is leased to McFarland Energy, so the deal will probably also involve a settlement with McFarland, said Louis F. Sandoval, city director of public services.

Escrow on the deal, which will require City Council approval, will probably close in about three months, Mauk said.

Whittier has set aside about $1.5 million to pay for landfill expansion, and "the cost of the deal will be within that amount," he said.

An existing city permit with the state Solid Waste Management Board already allows the expansion, Sandoval said. State officials said they have not evaluated the Savage Canyon permit to see if it covers the proposed expansion but agreed that a new one may not be necessary.

Anxious to Cut Deal

City officials are particularly anxious to cut the deal now because within two years they will be out of dirt to cover the day's garbage. Buying cover dirt would cost $108,000 per month, they say, and render their money-maker a money-loser. Last year, the landfill netted $353,500. The money goes into the fund that will pay for the expansion.

If the city buys Chevron's land, workers will dig out the newly acquired canyon to create future landfills, and use the dirt to cover garbage in the existing dump.

Compared to other dumps in Los Angeles County, Savage Canyon is a mere wastebasket. The gigantic Puente Hills landfill accepts more garbage in a day than Savage Canyon does in an average month. Together, BKK, Spadra, and Puente Hills landfills--the three likeliest disposal sites for Long Beach and Southeast area garbage--take in more than 20,000 tons of refuse per day. On a busy day, Savage Canyon might take in 360.

But for people who live or do business in Whittier, Savage Canyon may be one of the best deals in town.

A survey done last May by the California Disposal Assn. showed that commercial collection rates in Whittier are less than half the county average for pickup three times a week or more. Fifty-two cities, including Whittier, responded to the survey, which compared rates for collecting a three-yard-wide bin. Whittier's advantage was most dramatic when it came to six-times-a-week collection: $60.09 per month in Whittier, contrasted with a $141.70 county average.

In July, Whittier increased collection rates 11% across the board. A survey reflecting 1986-87 rate increases begins this month, association spokesman Jerry Weitzman said.

Advantage to Residents

When it comes to residential rates, the advantage to Whittier residents continues. Residential pickup cost $5.80 per month when the survey was taken, compared to a county average of $6.04.

Saturday gardeners and others who bring in small loads also do well at Whittier's landfill, which charges a minimum rate of $5, compared to a $7 minimum at Puente Hills and Spadra, and $12 to $14 at the privately owned BKK.

Entrance fees for garbage trucks are harder to compare, because Savage Canyon charges by the square yard, while most other landfills charge by the ton.

"If you're dumping gravel, it's probably cheaper here," Savage Canyon gatekeeper Bob Burke said. "If you're dumping trash, it's probably a little cheaper at the county landfills."

City officials say they get few complaints about Savage Canyon. "A lot of people probably don't even realize we have a landfill there," Whittier Councilman Victor Lopez said.

Recent inspections by the state Solid Waste Management Board showed no significant problems, said Kerry Jones, division chief. "Savage Canyon is fairly well run," he said.

When it comes to garbage, county officials say they wish more cities could follow Whittier's lead. "They are the little guys, but bless the little guys," said Joe Haworth, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts spokesman. "Too often, cities look upon trash as something to be exported."

Trash-to-Energy Plants

Lacking landfill space, and faced with having to eventually haul their garbage out of the county, some cities are building facilities that burn most types of refuse, and use the heat to make electricity.

Commerce is testing a new trash-to-energy plant, which is expected to be operating by June, 1987. Long Beach is building one, which may also accept trash from Lakewood and Signal Hill. County Sanitation Districts officials want to build a third trash-to-energy plant at Puente Hills landfill, but irate neighbors have organized against the plan, and the permit process promises to be laborious.

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