Planning commissioners get up close and personal to landfill

Chiquita Canyon's district manager Steve Cassulo gives a tour of the landfill on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to members of the public and county commissioners. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Regional planning commissioners poised to double the size of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill near Val Verde took a tour of the site Wednesday afternoon, just prior to a public hearing to discuss the proposed change.

Four commissioners representing the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission joined a contingent of reporters and about 20 citizens on an hour-long “field trip” of the landfill’s sprawling hilly terrain, most of it green due to this year’s rainfall.

Although commissioners answered no questions and said little, commissioner Doug Smith summed up the tour, saying: “I appreciated the opportunity to learn and look.”

Asked what intrigued him most about the tour, he said: “I’m going to wait until the public hearing to comment.”

Three Mercedes Benz buses climbed roads of crushed recycled concrete through hills of trash, piled over the last half century, now covered with green grass.

Chiquita’s District Manager Steve Cassulo, served as the mini-safari’s tour guide, answering questions from citizens concerned about the 200-feet of piled trash under their feet.

As people pressed Cassulo for specifics at the second of two stops on the tour, Commissioner Laura Shell went to Cassulo’s defense, assuring him he did not have to answer the questions put to him, reminding him that he could point to the company’s environmental impact report prepared for county officials as the official source.

Cassulo pointed to a number of recycling and sustainable efforts underway at the landfill in efforts to reduce its carbon footprint on the environment, most notably, the company’s recycling of methane gas.

At the tour’s first stop, overlooking a wide punchbowl-like valley, Cassulo pointed to trash trucks driving along an inner rim of the valley.

“We move the trash over every day,” he said, explaining how hills of trash are built up and moved outward.

And, just as officials collect gases emitted by the decomposing refuse for either recycling or burning off, they also collect water which gathers at the bottom of underground liners and they truck the water to a water treatment facility in Anaheim.

Landfill managers said they need to expand their operation, and therefore see the need to move into an adjacent punchbowl-like valley to the north of the existing site, referred to as “Canyon B.”

Cassulo explained to the tour that the need for expansion is why the commissioners and citizens were invited on the tour – to see for themselves the need to expand the operation into a neighboring valley.

They simply need more room to dump, contain and monitor the hills of trash they create.

To the west of “Canyon B,”  poised at the top of a hill were water tanks maintained by the Castaic Lake Water Agency. To the northeast of it, is property used by the U.S. Postal Service off of Commerce Center Drive.

“We’re going to excavate those dirt hills,” Cassulo said pointing to a ridge of dirt on the west side of the proposed valley.  “We’re going to put a new liner in and end up creating one landfill.

At the public hearing set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, commissioners are expected to authorize the continued operation and expansion of a Class 3 landfill.

What’s to be approved is the expansion of the existing landfill’s “waste footprint” from 257 acres to 400 acres – almost double.

The applicants – Chiquita Canyon Landfill LLC – who applied for what is essentially a zoning permit also want to increase its maximum elevation from 1,430 feet to 1,573 feet and increase its daily disposal limits from 6,000 tons of waste a day to 12,000 tons a day – again, double.

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