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Valley landfill oversight dispute comes to a head

The state will monitor Sunshine Canyon until a local body is set up.

June 30, 2008|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Adding another wrinkle to a decades-old controversy over a giant dump in the north San Fernando Valley, the state has approved a request by the operator of Sunshine Canyon Landfill to step in and oversee enforcement of waste laws at the facility until a city-county joint agency is approved.

Sunshine Canyon is actually two landfills roughly a quarter of a mile apart, which puts them in different jurisdictions: one in the city of Los Angeles, the other in unincorporated county territory.

The dump's owner, Browning-Ferris Industries, wants to merge the landfills to create a single dump that would accept 12,100 tons of garbage a day, but has been required to run them separately until the city and county form a single agency to oversee it.

BFI bypassed the local agencies last year and asked the California Integrated Waste Management Board to merge the landfills and have the state inspect the site.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, July 09, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 109 words Type of Material: Correction
Sunshine Canyon: An article in the June 30 California section about the Sunshine Canyon Landfill said the dump sits atop an underground reservoir that holds water for 19 million people. The San Fernando Groundwater Basin is one mile south of the dump, and only non-potable water lies under the dump. Also, the article stated that Greg Loughnane, a spokesman for Browning-Ferris Industries, said company officials wanted to combine the two dumps at the site into one because a single dump would be less expensive to operate. In fact, Loughnane said the sole reason for seeking to merge the two was concern they would run out of room for garbage.

Under state law, local officials have until 2010 to put the joint agency in place, but BFI complained that city and county leaders were taking too long.

City and county officials want to maintain oversight powers, saying the state is too lax in enforcing some of the regulations.

The City Council and the Board of Supervisors have approved an agreement to create the joint city-county oversight agency, and it has been submitted to the state for approval. The state is scheduled to vote on it July 22.

"BFI didn't want to wait," said Wayde Hunter, a member of the city and county community advisory committees. "They did an end run around the city and county."

BFI officials said that it would be less expensive to operate the two landfills as one and that they went to the state because they were tired of waiting for the city and county to act.

Greg Loughnane, L.A. market vice president for BFI's owner, Allied Waste, said space is running out on the city side of the dump, forcing that side to decrease the amount of trash it accepts to 1,000 tons per day from 5,500 tons per day.

"We can't afford the situation," Loughnane said. "Everybody's flustered about something that will go away on July 22."

BFI wants to merge the dumps to put all 12,100 tons on the county side, where there is more easily accessible space.

The state has approved BFI's request and will step in and oversee the landfill until the joint agency is approved. The city and county will continue to have an inspector at the landfill every day.

Hunter said BFI's move forced a rush to create the agency, and that both the city and county were considering filing lawsuits against BFI for bypassing them.

But an attorney with the state's waste management board said state law allows landfill operators to take such steps when local governments drag their feet.

"There is a law in place that allows an operator to submit an application when there is a limited amount of time to act on it," said Steven Levine, senior staff counsel for the waste management board. "My understanding is there's a concern that you don't want local or state agencies to take too long."

The joint agency is to include experienced inspectors to oversee the dump. It also would oversee the distribution of millions of dollars in dumping fees generated every year that are to be split between the two jurisdictions.

The agency would be overseen by five directors, including one person appointed by the City Council and one by the Board of Supervisors. BFI would pay all costs for the agency.

Sunshine Canyon is one of the largest municipal dumps in the nation. It sits near an earthquake fault and atop an underground reservoir that holds water for 19 million people in Southern California.

The dump, located in the mountains above Granada Hills, has long operated amid mistrust and finger-pointing. As the owner has tried to expand its capacity, local residents and leaders have attempted to shut it down, complaining of noise, pollution and odors.

Over the years, neighborhood groups have sued the landfill owners and the county over expansion and alleged regulatory violations.

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amanda.covarrubias@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Center of controversy

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Sunshine Canyon Landfill opened 50 years ago and has inspired decades of conflict. Here are some key events in its history:

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1958 -- Dumping begins on the city side of the property.

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1966 -- Browning-Ferris Industries purchases the Sunshine Canyon Landfill property.

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1988 -- The L.A. Board of Zoning Appeals sharply limits the amount of dumping at the landfill, but upholds a zoning variance that allows the landfill to operate.

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1991 -- The landfill's permit expires on the 230-acre city side, and dumping stops temporarily.

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1993 -- The L.A. County Board of Supervisors approves a 215-acre dump on the county side.

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1994 -- Residential group North Valley Coalition sues the county, alleging that environmental studies that allowed the landfill were flawed. The group loses the suit.

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1995 -- The city approves reopening the city portion of the landfill after BFI agrees to drop a $400-million lawsuit.

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1996 -- The county portion of the landfill opens to accept about 6,600 tons of garbage per day.

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2006 -- BFI continues working to create a joint landfill that would accept up to 12,100 tons of garbage per day.

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2007 -- Supervisors restrict the amount of garbage and put a 30-year limit on operations, requiring the dump to close by 2037.

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Source: Times staff reports

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