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Puente Hills Landfill Wins Court Fight to Keep Operating : Environment: Closing it until suits are resolved would disrupt refuse collection, judge rules. Opponents will appeal.


Ending uncertainty over the fate of the Puente Hills Landfill, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has reaffirmed a decision to let it continue accepting trash until environmental lawsuits brought by its opponents are resolved.

The ruling by Judge Diane L. Wayne last week allows the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County to continue operations at the county's second-biggest landfill and was a setback for opponents--a homeowners group, a local school district and developer R. R. & C. Corp.

"Clearly, Judge Wayne does not want to shut this landfill down . . . so we're filing a writ of appeal," said Jeffrey D. Dintzer, an attorney for the Hacienda Heights Home Improvement Assn. and Hacienda La Puente Unified School District.

Opponents had hoped Wayne would close the landfill at least temporarily after ruling last month that the permit issued by the County Board of Supervisors in August, 1993, was invalid.

However, Wayne agreed with Sanitation Districts officials that shutting down Puente Hills would cause a major disruption to refuse collection countywide and could leave trash in the streets.

But Dintzer said there is plenty of excess landfill space in the county to accommodate the trash normally taken to Puente Hills.

Wayne's ruling surprised some who thought her previous decisions pointed to the certain closure of the landfill, located at the junction of the San Gabriel River (605) and Pomona (60) freeways. The site takes in more than 12,000 tons of trash daily from 60 cities in the San Gabriel Valley and the southeastern portion of the county.

In October, the judge ruled that an environmental study on expanding the landfill was inadequate. Specifically, she questioned its analysis of the affects on ground-water quality as well as the lack of detail provided on a proposed recycling and waste-by-rail facility.

Last month, Wayne invalidated the permit for the landfill because of the inadequacy of the environmental report.

Sanitation officials want to expand the landfill to within 1,750 feet of homes to extend its life to 2003. But Wayne's latest ruling allows dumping only in the existing landfill and not in the proposed expansion area that has been challenged. As such, the existing landfill will reach capacity next year, according to sanitation officials.

The landfill can stay open while the facility's operators correct inadequacies with extra studies.

The districts made a move toward doing that last Wednesday, when its board approved new detailed reports on ground-water effects and decided to separate the recycling and waste-by-rail project from the landfill expansion in order to reduce delays.

Sanitation Districts officials said Wayne would have to approve the division and review the studies before they ask county supervisors for a new permit as early as May.

But Dintzer said, "We're going to fight this separation."

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