The planned closure of Brea's landfill in 2013 has left officials scrambling for somewhere else to dump North County trash. Alternatives could mean trucking it out of the county, hauling it by train to the desert or piling it on at landfills in Irvine and San Juan Capistrano.
Whatever the choice, it won't be cheap, officials say.
Trash. Most people roll it out to the curb each week, never giving a thought to where it goes from there. But its final destination is part of a complicated grid that by 2013 could lead to a doubling or more of North County disposal fees, even as the rest of the county pays far cheaper rates.
While the crisis, if it comes to that, won't arrive for 12 years with the scheduled closure of Brea's Olinda Alpha Landfill, the county's Integrated Waste Management Department needs to come up with a solution long before that.
County authorities are trying to hammer out a deal with Brea officials to keep the landfill open beyond 2013. Otherwise, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano landfills could take the displaced trash, but at a price.
"One-third of our [county disposal] system will close in 2013. So, what do you do? You have to start considering options," said Suzanne McClanahan, division manager at the waste management department.
One option is exporting the area's trash to Riverside County, which now pays Orange County to take its trash, as do San Diego, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
"The idea of importing and exporting [from and to Riverside County] at the same time doesn't work," McClanahan said.
Some North County cities are wary. Doris Roush, Anaheim's manager of streets and sanitation, said Anaheim could opt to "just export our trash ourselves" if Anaheim officials do not like the county's ultimate solution for disposing of North County trash.
"If we don't like the options they give us, then it's up to us to take another plan of action. But we're still a long way off from knowing what we're going to do," she said.
While the Olinda landfill receives most North County trash, it also receives the bulk of the waste trucked into the county. About 35% of the trash dumped there comes from outside the county.
Orange County went into the importation business after its 1994 bankruptcy, a move to generate much-needed money. Since 1995, the county has raised about $90 million by letting outsiders dump their trash in the county's three landfills.
Importation will continue through 2015, when the county is scheduled to finish paying off its bankruptcy debts. Importers are allowed to dump trash at a lower fee than paid by local haulers, a post-bankruptcy deal used to tempt outsiders to Orange County landfills.
As the out-of-county trash flows in, some 100,000 tons of North County trash may have to flow out each year when the Brea landfill closes. Hauling the trash to neighboring counties is one of five options--each colored with controversy--being reviewed by the waste department's Regional Landfill Options for Orange County committee, or RELOOC. The committee will submit recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in 2004 as part of a 40-year waste disposal plan.
That plan will be dictated in large part by the willingness of Irvine to expand and extend the life span of the Frank R. Bowerman landfill and whether San Juan Capistrano would do the same with its Prima Deshecha landfill. (The Irvine and San Juan landfills already take small amounts of North County trash, when the Brea landfill reaches its daily tonnage limit.)
The county's plans also include approaching the area's largest landowner, the Irvine Co., to see if it would be willing to let Gypsum Canyon in Anaheim Hills and Round Canyon in Irvine be used as trash dumps. Round Canyon abuts Irvine's landfill.
Irvine Co. spokesman Michael Stockstill said a development agreement with Anaheim rules out Gypsum Canyon but the company is willing to discuss Round Canyon.
If new agreements cannot be reached with Brea, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano, North County will have little choice but to move its garbage--by truck or by rail--to Riverside County landfills.
Early estimates put the cost of rail hauling at $33 to $45 per ton, but Brea City Manager Tim O'Donnell said it could end up costing more than that--triple or quadruple the $22 now charged to dump in North County. He is working with county officials to find a solution.
McClanahan agreed, saying that "costs could rise significantly."
Rail costs worry officials the most. If the county takes this path, tons and tons of trash would be moved by rail to the Eagle Mountain Landfill, tucked in a remote corner of Riverside County.
"If this happens, the county would have to build an intermodal facility, where trash would be trucked to and then transferred to rail cars," said McClanahan. "Depending on where it's built, we may have to build a special line to link with existing rail lines."
While there are no cost estimates, such a facility would run into the millions, officials agree.