A group trying to shut down Chiquita Canyon Landfill with a lawsuit now has 112 plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, according to an attorney representing the collection of Castaic and Val Verde residents.
Meanwhile the landfill is approaching a deadline to implement a new flare that a Chiquita Canyon official says should make a difference within a matter of days.
The landfill has drawn repeated violations for months from air quality regulators who have cited the facility for a stench that’s grown in scope since July.
A dozen or so residents filed a lawsuit in September, alleging their health has been impacted by the facility — a group that’s grown considerably since the complaint was first filed.
“We really feel strongly about the community being able to drive this and also focus on things like the landfill closing, as opposed to making more money,” said Oshea Orchid, a Val Verde attorney, who said the team discussed bringing in other attorneys early on to help with the volume. “On the back end of this, we are going to be talking about how much people get paid. But on the front end, we want to first go after closing the landfill and mitigating the impact.”
A recent filing by Chiquita Canyon indicates the payout could be significant.
In a motion to move the case to a federal jurisdiction, counsel for Chiquita Canyon argued the conditions are met for such a move: the lawsuit was filed under the appropriate federal rule; at least one plaintiff is from a different state than the Texas-based Waste Connections (all of them are); the number of the proposed class exceeds 100; and the claim totals of the plaintiffs exceed $5 million, exclusive of interests and costs.
Orchid said she’s planning to file a motion to remand the case back to L.A. County Superior Court.
There’s been no definitive determination on the health impacts of the smell from official sources.
A firm hired by the landfill reported last month that, based on its initial review, it hasn’t determined that there aren’t any health impacts based on the data they have so far. In a news conference earlier this month, county officials announced they’d be conducting their own independent study and that comprehensive results for any determinations would likely take until early next year. The plaintiffs also are expected to commission a study on the effects.
The landfill has received a violation notice any time the South Coast Air Quality Management District substantiates at least six complaints in a 24-hour period. The landfill has received more than 2,000 complaints from residents since the landfill gas problem began earlier this year, which has led to dozens of violations. (The AQMD also stops receiving complaints in a 24-hour period once a violation is triggered.)
Orchid said people have been coming to her with health effects and some are still learning about the complaint process and the fund set up by Chiquita Canyon Landfill to help pay their expenses.
Chiquita Canyon has declined to comment on any pending litigation, but the manager of the facility recently said he expects a third flare recently approved by the AQMD will help capture more of the dimethyl sulfide, a landfill gas that’s believed to be the stench culprit.
The larger issue, according to a recent report by CalRecycle, is a smoldering subsurface reaction site at the landfill, which has been triggered by mismanagement of old waste by the facility’s previous operators.
Shortly after the report from CalRecycle, the state agency that regulates waste management, 5th District county Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a number of new mitigation measures for the landfill.
County officials have repeatedly said they have a good working relationship with Chiquita Canyon and anticipate the landfill will work to meet its mandated mitigation targets.
Steve Cassulo, district manager for Chiquita Canyon, which is owned by Waste Connections, said recently that one measure that the facility had started months ago should be in place by the middle of November.
A third flare should help the landfill capture more of the gas that’s causing the smell, Cassulo said during a recent town hall-style discussion the landfill held to answer questions from the public. The deadline for the flare’s installation is Nov. 15, but Cassulo has said they intend to beat that goal.
He also disputed CalRecycle’s characterization of the root cause of the event at the landfill that’s causing the smell in a statement issued following CalRecycle’s report.
“Despite this disagreement, we are working to quickly address the recommendations as outlined by CalRecycle, many of which Chiquita has already been implementing for months,” according to Cassulo’s statement on Chiqiuta Canyon’s website.
A deadline for residents to apply for $2,000 grants was recently extended to the end of the year, according to a recent announcement from Barger’s office. The money, which is from Chiquita Canyon’s 2017 agreement that extended the life of the landfill, is being administered by a third-party company to pay for residents’ increased utility bills because of the smell.
Orchid said, in the meantime, she was working on the next phase of her effort to shut down the landfill, the filing of the California Environmental Quality Act complaint, while she works to amend the original claim against the county, which includes monetary damages, by taking statements from residents who have joined the lawsuit.
Information on how to file a complaint can be found at AQMD.gov/complaints.
The landfill shares information about its grants at chiquitacanyonlandfillrelief.lacda.org.