Barger calls on state agencies to close Chiquita 

Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.
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L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a call for state regulators to revoke Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s permits Tuesday in response to their legal concerns about the county acting unilaterally against the landfill.  

Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley, said in a phone conversation during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that she wanted to host the discussion about what it would take to shut down the landfill and inform the public and legislators of the challenges the county is dealing with in addressing residents’ calls to do just that. She also stated that a website set up to share information about community benefits, including potential relocation money, is expected to be live next week. 

“So the goal was to really question the (county) departments in terms of, ‘What would it take to revoke the permit?’” she said, “and then, ‘What would Plan B be?’ which we heard from the department, the Plan B is, they are looking at capacity issues throughout the county.” 

The county supervisors on Tuesday heard from directors for county Planning, Public Health and Public Works, and discussed the other agencies’ roles in remediation for the landfill’s problems that have escalated since last spring.  

The talk was planned long before a workplace accident Friday at the landfill that left one person injured, Barger said, but added “these types of incidents definitely erode public confidence.”  

“It’s clear to me that despite our best collective efforts, this odor problem remains unsolved and continues to afflict the surrounding community. The nosebleeds are real. The headaches are real,” she wrote in a statement issued Tuesday following the board’s discussion. “I do not discount the suffering of the residents who live nearby. Our board will hold the landfill accountable and will ensure they deploy every resource that is available to stop the odors.” 

Tuesday’s discussion 

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors heard from the various county agencies working on the odor and leachate problems at Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic in response to a motion by Barger last week. 

Barger said she was calling on the state agencies to help put pressure on the facility, alluding to a legal threat that could be posed by the landfill should the county try a unilateral shutdown effort. As part of the concern, she mentioned how the landfill sued in response to the terms it agreed to when its conditional-use permit was renewed in 2017, and the court sided with the landfill. 

One of the complications she said she wanted to explain during Tuesday’s talk, which also was part of the reason for the call to action with the state, is the county has issued a CUP for the landfill to take in garbage. 

As the violations involve an older section of the facility that is no longer in use, Barger said the county is aware the county would have to justify how its permit revocation over an area not taking in garbage would represent a violation of its current operating conditions. 

And in the active areas of the landfill where there are problems, Department of Regional Planning Director Amy Bodek said Tuesday if a permitted facility is taking efforts in good faith to address its problems, as the landfill has, the county’s procedure would be to allow a respondent to continue to make that good-faith effort while addressing its problems. 

Some of that was explained in response to one of Barger’s first questions from the board to county directors Tuesday: “What is the process for revoking a conditional use permit?” 

The idea behind Tuesday’s discussion was to give the public more answers about questions like that, which Bodek said, “We clearly banter about and understand that it may be a little more complex of an issue.” 

Barger also said that while the county might face numerous legal challenges in a closure effort based on the nature of the violations, the issues are within the purview of state and federal agencies to act, which also was part of what Barger was trying to educate the public about.  

“To close the Chiquita Canyon Landfill, state agencies that have authority over landfills can and should exercise their authority to revoke permits. Unilateral action by the county at this time will certainly be legally challenged and will go nowhere,” Barger added in her statement sent via email Tuesday. “There must be a clear justification to order Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s closure and we can build a stronger case to do so with that support. I am hopeful that we can appeal to the relevant state agencies, which includes South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Regional Water Quality Control Board Los Angeles Region, and CalRecycle, the lead enforcement agency in charge of landfill closures and post closure maintenance. County and state agencies need to band and stand together.” 

During the discussion Tuesday, Barger also asked Bodek to share information on how other state agencies might help the county address the landfill’s problems. 

In light of the county not having a clear path to revoke the CUP based on its own policies, Barger said, what could a state agency help provide the county that justification by revoking its permit? 

“Theoretically, yes, it does depend on whether that agency outright revokes or if that agency does something similar (to the county) where they give them an opportunity to cure,” Bodek answered. 

Bodek also said CalRecycle, the AQMD and the DTSC have issued permits for the landfill. 

Shikari Nakagawa-Ota, branch director for Environmental Health Protection of Public Health, said Cal Recycle’s role regarding the landfill’s closure would be oversight of its cessation plan, which spells out how a property is managed for up to 30 years after a waste facility’s closure. This discussion also served to underscore another point Barger was trying to make clear: closure alone, without the coordination of the other agencies, would not address the landfill’s problems.  

A representative for Barger also noted Tuesday the county’s own independent health study failed to determine long-term health impacts associated with the landfill, which did not give the county further justification to call for a closure under the terms of its CUP. 

The expert who presented the data, Adam Love, said the results should be considered “preliminary” during his presentation of the data and called for more consistent, longer-term monitoring, which the landfill agreed to previously.  

On Thursday, Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, “and a coalition of California Legislators issued an urgent letter to the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District regarding the Chiquita Canyon Landfill,” according to a news release from her office. 

“The undersigned legislators request increased involvement with this hazardous site and also request an urgent meeting to discuss the current state of oversight and accountability imposed upon Chiquita Canyon Landfill, the steps that DTSC will be taking to expand monitoring and mitigation, and how the DTSC, the Water Board, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District will be coordinating with local, state and federal entities to ensure rapid resolution to this crisis,” according to her letter.  

A representative from Schiavo’s office was not immediately available Tuesday. 

Following violations alleged Feb. 20 by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, and then an order issued Thursday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Barger called on county agencies to update the community on their efforts at the next board meeting. 

On Friday evening, after a workplace accident left one injured, Barger essentially stated she’s lost confidence in the landfill’s leadership and ability to manage its problems, which have grown in scope and scale since February of last year. 

Tuesday’s updates included reports from: Mark Pestrella, director of Public Works; Bodek, the director of the Department of Regional Planning; Kevin McGowan, director of the Office of Emergency Management, or OEM, for the county’s CEO; and Dr. Nichole Quick, deputy director of the Health Protection Bureau. 

A countywide task force was convened by Barger shortly after officials became aware the problem in an older, inactive section of the landfill was worsening and affecting residents’ quality of life, Pestrella said.  

“Our No. 1 priority has been mitigating the reaction to decrease community impact,” Pestrella said, adding county officials have been to numerous community meetings in Castaic. 

Quick discussed the history of the smoldering event, which was studied by Cal Recycle, as the lead state agency for waste-management facilities, at the request of the county. 

CalRecycle’s analysis confirmed the presence of a rare elevated temperature landfill event, resulting in “a lot of leachate” — a chemical created when rainwater and other water filters through rotting garbage and landfill gases, Quick said. The reaction also created nauseating levels of dimethyl sulfide and other landfill gases that have led to thousands of air-quality complaints.  

Previous reports indicated the volume of leachate being produced was expected to peak around November at close to 1 million gallons per week, which has since declined. 

The DTSC stated last week that the landfill attempted to dump leachate with benzene levels in excess of 0.5 milligrams per liter at a treatment facility in Gardena that was not equipped or legally permitted to handle such waste. Dozens of tankers can be seen on the facility’s site as it’s not allowed to transport the leachate until additional test results are returned, according to a source familiar with the situation.  

In response, the county, in addition to working with the various regulatory agencies such as the Air Quality Management District to identify and cite violations, has created a grant program to help residents affected, Quick said. 

“Supervisor Barger was also the one who called upon Chiquita, repeatedly, to establish a relocation program, which they have agreed to do,” she said.  

Bodek also mentioned the roles of the “alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that have been involved.”  

The Regional Planning Department holds the landfill’s conditional use permit under which the facility can perform such a “use” at that site, Bodek said. But there are a myriad of local, regional, state and federal regulators playing a role, including the AQMD, CalRecycle, the DTSC, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the EPA. 

“All of those agencies have a role to play in the jurisdictional enforcement and administration of a land use like a landfill,” she said, which has made it challenging to say who is in charge, which has been a complaint cited by members of the landfill’s community advisory committee.  

“We are essentially the coordinators of that information,” she said.  

She also noted that for the county to shut down the landfill with cause, the landfill would need to first stop being responsive, which it has not done. 

In terms of federal oversight, Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, shared a video of himself in Val Verde on Monday, so he could “see firsthand and smell firsthand” just what’s going on.  

“The bottom line is, is that you don’t have to be an environmental specialist to know that there’s a problem out here,” he said in front of the “Welcome to Val Verde” sign. “It’s not just an odor, it’s fumes coming out of the landfill.” 

He said he would prefer the landfill hit pause on all operations until these questions were fully answered, calling on the county and the state to do that. He also reiterated a call from his news release last week, looking for answers about what is happening, the root cause and then if there have been any bad actors who need to be held accountable.  

“This is a health concern,” he said, “and there are about 20,000 people affected by this.” 

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