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Hahn Threatens Criminal Action Against Landfill

November 17, 2000|ANNETTE KONDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles City Atty. Jim Hahn Thursday asked regulators to review alleged environmental violations at Sunshine Canyon Landfill for possible criminal prosecution by his office.

Last month, Browning Ferris Industries Inc., operators of the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, said they were complying with warnings by air quality officials to fix methane gas leaks from the dump north of Granada Hills.

The landfill has been cited four times for gas emissions that exceeded state standards.

South Coast Air Quality Management District officials said Thursday the last inspection of the landfill about 10 days ago showed that most problems had been corrected and others were being worked on.

Hahn, a candidate for mayor, said the company's compliance may not be enough.

"If you want to send a real strong message and want the law followed, criminal prosecution can send a real message and be a strong deterrent," Hahn said.

A BFI official said Thursday that all the leaks were fixed and a letter was sent one week ago to 70,000 adjacent residents to explain how the violations cited by the air quality agency were corrected.

"It never posed a health hazard to the neighborhood or to the workers who work around it every day," said Arnie Berghoff, BFI spokesman.

"It's pretty clear that Mr. Hahn does not understand the regulatory process and we would be delighted to have him out [for a visit]," Berghoff said. "He would learn the violations were all minor in nature. They are all corrected."

In a Nov. 13 letter to seven local and state regulatory agencies--including the state Environmental Protection Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Regional Water Control Board--Hahn asked the agencies to forward any alleged violations at Sunshine Canyon for possible prosecution.

Hahn said his Environmental Protection Unit lacks investigators to research cases and must rely on the assistance of other agencies. His letter also announced that he would organize the agencies into a working group to monitor Sunshine Canyon.

Hahn said his letter was prompted by news reports last month of the methane leaks, but said he did not know of other current violations at the landfill.

Officials at the Air Quality Management District said they had not yet reviewed Hahn's letter and could not comment on his plans for a multi-agency monitoring group.

To correct the violations at Sunshine Canyon, additional wells were being added to the site to draw gas to collection devices where the methane will be burned off, said Lisha Smith, SCAQMD spokeswoman.

The violations, which include allegations of improper excavation work, were being referred to the air quality agency's prosecutor for review, said Bill Kelly, a SCAQMD spokesman. All violations are reviewed by that office for possible fines or civil charges, he said.

Hahn said his actions were not motivated by his campaign for mayor and that he was not considering shutting the landfill down. He called for future discussion of "closing all landfills that border residential areas."

A Superior Court judge is currently considering a lawsuit by residents who want to block expansion of the landfill, accusing the city of Los Angeles of failing to consider all negative environmental effects of the dump.

Members of the coalition which sued to block the landfill's expansion applauded Hahn's actions.

"I think it is absolutely wonderful, normally nothing happens to the violations," said Mary Edwards, spokeswoman of the North Valley Coalition. "What happens with these things they are told to correct them and nothing is done. It's more a slap on the wrist."

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