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Puente Hills Landfill Operators Push for Veto of Bill to Curb Expansion


HACIENDA HEIGHTS — Puente Hills Landfill operators plan to lobby Gov. Pete Wilson hard to veto a bill approved by the Legislature this week that would put more green space between residents and an expanded dump.

Operators say the measure would cost county residents millions of dollars and would override local authority.

"It's bad legislation," said Stephen Maguin, the county Sanitation Districts' chief of solid waste. "It overrides local decision-making made following hundreds of hours of hearings and extensive environmental study. . . . We're going to seek a veto."

The districts, a grouping of representatives from many of the county's cities, got the go-ahead in July from the County Board of Supervisors to expand the dump, which is the nation's second-largest landfill. It is just west of Hacienda Heights, extending almost to Whittier, and south of Turnbull Canyon.

Under the expansion, landfill operators can move east into canyons within 1,750 feet of Hacienda Heights homes and schools and continue operations to the year 2003. The landfill was scheduled to close Nov. 1 when its operating permit expired.

However, under the bill authored by Assemblywomen Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) that reached the governor's office Monday, no landfill operations may exist at Puente Hills closer than 2,000 feet from residences.

"Expansion of this landfill means San Gabriel Valley's continued exposure to air pollution, traffic congestion and probable toxins in the ground water," said Solis, in explaining the need for more space between the landfill and residences.

Her bill represents government responding to community demands, namely those of Hacienda Heights homeowners, she said.

"I would strongly recommend the governor consider we got bipartisan support in the Legislature and a large number of Republicans live in the area," she said.

But Maguin disputed the benefits Solis said her bill will bring. Instead, the legislation would increase taxpayer costs for dumping and undermine local government control of land use, he said.

The county held half a dozen public hearings, and the landfill owner conducted an extensive environmental study of the expansion plan before the supervisors reached their decision, he said.

Meanwhile, Solis' buffer zone will reduce the capacity at Puente Hills--the cheapest landfill in the county--forcing cities to pay to dump at more expensive landfills, Maguin said.

"It's the citizens of L.A. County who will pay for this bill. It will cost taxpayers millions of dollars," he said.

But Jeffrey Yann, president of Hacienda Heights Home Improvement Assn., said homeowners will start a letter campaign urging Wilson to sign the bill.

He said that without the bill, landfill operators will be creating dust and noise in the middle of the afternoon 1,750 feet from a local elementary school.

"Obviously, we're in a situation where the farther the landfill is away from the community, the better," he said.

But Yann said his group has provided plans to the landfill operators on keeping the same capacity despite the restrictions.

Sanitation Districts officials, however, say the plans are unrealistic. The plans called for the landfill to mound trash in a storage system that sanitation officials said would be unstable.

Maguin said a veto of Solis' bill may be likely because last month the California Integrated Waste Management board that oversees landfills voted against supporting the bill. Their opposition could influence Wilson's decision on the bill, he said.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits opposing the decision to expand the landfill have been filed against the county. On Friday, the Hacienda Heights residents' group sued. On Monday, RR & C Corp. and a number of residents filed a separate legal challenge to the expansion. RR & C is a firm that has extensive land holdings in City of Industry to the north of the dump, where commercial businesses now exist.

On Sept. 14 a Los Angeles Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear a lawsuit by the same two groups who are contesting the landfill operator's environmental study of its expansion. If the lawsuit succeeds, it would delay the expansion.

Already the Sanitation Districts' expansion plans have been delayed and their current operations endangered. Although county supervisors approved the operators' expansion plans, other regulatory agencies, such as the regional water quality board, have not yet granted permits for growth.

Last month, realizing these permits could not be obtained before the Nov. 1 closure date for the landfill, the operators asked the state to allow continued dumping in the current landfill area for another year while they obtain the permits for expansion.

The state waste board is scheduled to hear that request at the end of this month.

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