Environment & Science

County approves new permit for Chiquita Canyon Landfill

About 55 percent of Los Angeles city garbage ends up at the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Here, Luis Santana drives a Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation garbage truck April 23, 2015.
About 55 percent of Los Angeles city garbage ends up at the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Here, Luis Santana drives a Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation garbage truck April 23, 2015.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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The giant Chiquita Canyon Landfill in the Santa Clarita Valley can continue to operate for up to 30 more years, potentially tripling the amount of garbage now buried there, following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The vote to approve a new conditional use permit came over the objections of some residents of nearby Val Verde, Castaic and Santa Clarita who complained of truck traffic, odors and dust from the dump.

Business groups and haulers supported the continued operation as helping to keep tipping prices low. They also said it would help avoid long trash truck trips to other dumps in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Chiquita Canyon Landfill takes in about one-fifth of the county’s garbage and more than half of LA city’s trash. The dump has become more important since the closure of Puente Hills Landfill in 2013.

The landfill has long been a sore spot for residents. It opened in 1972, and in 1997, the former owner signed an agreement with the Val Verde Civic Association to close the landfill in 2019, or when it reached 23 million tons of garbage. Chiquita Canyon passed that limit one year ago, but Los Angeles County officials granted it a waiver to continue operating while the current owners, Waste Connections Inc., sought a new, 30-year permit.

At Tuesday's hearing, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said that 1997 closure agreement was not binding on the county because it was not part of the landfill’s operating conditions.

Two days after the hearing, Lynne Plambeck challenged Barger’s assertion. Plambeck is president of SCOPE, an environmental organization in Santa Clarita that filed one of the four appeals against the landfill expansion. She provided a copy of the 1997 Conditional Use Permit, which states, “The maximum total capacity of the landfill shall be 23 milliion tons. Landfill closure shall occur when this capacity is reached or by November 24, 2019, whichever occurs first.”

While acknowledging that language from the agreement between the former landfill owner and the civic group does appear in the 1997 permit, Barger’s spokesman Tony Bell said other parts of the same document allow the county to increase the landfill capacity and extend its footprint and operating lifespan.

“When the findings and conditions of the conditional use permit are read in their entirety, it is clear that the 1997 grant did contemplate that a new permit could be applied for at a future date that could allow for continued or expanded use of the landfill,” Bell said in an email.

Five organizations, including Val Verde Civic Association and the Sierra Club, filed appeals of the county Planning Commission’s April approval of the landfill’s environmental impact report, the conditional use permit and a permit to remove four oak trees. Landfill owner Waste Connections, Inc., also appealed some of the operating requirements dictated by the Planning Commission in its approval.

"All of us are disappointed," said Plambeck. "I think people are happy with the additional air quality monitoring" that Barger had requested the landfill perform.

Barger said she intended for Tuesday’s approval to represent the last Conditional Use Permit the landfill would receive from the county. That’s partly because officials have set the goal of diverting a large portion of the county's solid waste away from landfills and toward recycling and reuse.

“We are all consumers and consumption leads to waste. We are all responsible for the continued need to bury our waste in landfills across the county, not just at Chiquita Canyon,” Barger said.

The board unanimously approved her motion to issue the new permit. It limits operating hours, and the amount of trash permitted to be tipped there each day. It also adds new requirements for air and water quality testing and improvements to nearby roads.

Barger’s motion would let the landfill accept up to 2.8 million tons per year for the first seven years of the permit, and 1.8 million tons per year for the remaining 23 years, meaning the landfill could potentially take in 61 million more tons of trash.

Some of the residents who supported closure of the landfill said garbage should instead by sent to the county’s completed but dormant Mesquite Regional Landfill in Imperial County, about 5 miles east of Glamis. A county planning document says that is not feasible because the rail line necessary to haul the garbage there is not yet operational.

UPDATED June 29, 2017: This story has been updated to include more information about the landfill closure agreement a former owner signed with a community group and which was included in the 1997 county conditional use permit.  Barger said Tuesday that it was not included, however the document approved by the Board of Supervisors contains that provision.