County to review oversight, mitigation for Chiquita Canyon 

Protestors gather in support of shutting down Chiquita Canyon Landfill on Thursday at Hasley Canyon Park. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Amid growing calls to shut down the odorous Chiquita Canyon Landfill, L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger ordered an update to be given Tuesday from agencies that represent “the tip of the spear in the community in responding to residents’ questions and concerns.” 

Elected officials representing the Santa Clarita Valley also issued statements supporting immediate action against the landfill after The Signal sought their responses to the growing concerns and announcements of enforcement actions from both the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.   

During the next Board of Supervisors meeting, the directors of Public Health, Regional Planning and Public Works departments are to present “the status of mitigation efforts to address the Chiquita Canyon Landfill odor incident, and the roles and responsibilities of all involved agencies, including our state and federal partners who have responded to this incident,” according to Barger’s motion. 

While the landfill has been causing problems for nearly a year, announcements this week from state and federal agencies have elevated the profile of the issue. A news release from the EPA bore a headline stating the landfill presents “imminent and substantial endangerment to nearby communities.”  

The problems stem from an older, inactive version of the landfill, where rains caused elevated reaction levels that have overwhelmed the facility’s ability to capture sulfuric landfill gasses and leachate, a chemical formed when rain and other water filters through decomposing garbage and the resulting gases. 

“Given the complicated nature of overseeing the Chiquita Canyon Landfill, which previously included county and state agencies and now includes the U.S. EPA, I am directing top county department leaders to provide a full briefing to the Board of Supervisors this coming Tuesday,” Barger wrote in a statement Friday. “I want to ensure there is a transparent presentation to the Board and to the public that lays out the most accurate and current information available. Expect to hear a discussion of roles and responsibilities, solutions to mitigate the terrible odors, and the authority of county, state, and federal agencies to continue to take escalating corrective measures — up to and including closure of the landfill — so that the impact on the community is rightfully addressed.” 

Barger also said Thursday that, based on reports from CalRecycle, the state’s lead waste-management agency, county studies and state experts, “the county has not determined that closure of the landfill is currently warranted under the conditions of the county’s CUP.” 

In her statement, she also sought to “emphasize that the state has a very important and relevant role in responding to calls for the landfill’s closure,” adding the county is one of “the numerous entities with regulatory authority over the Chiquita Canyon Landfill — all others are special districts or state agencies.” 

She also called on state legislators who represent the community “to take swift and urgent action to ensure these state agencies examine their respective areas of oversight and authority and assess whether the landfill’s closure is warranted or feasible.” 

Federal level 

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, called the EPA’s order Thursday “a step in the right direction” and said there are still many questions about the problem.  

Figuring what’s wrong is the first step, he said, adding he’s prepared to use any congressional authority at his disposal to hold any bad actors responsible, if that’s where the investigation leads. 

“I’m grateful the EPA is taking this issue seriously, and I look forward to working with them to ensure we find solutions as soon as possible,” he wrote in a statement shared via email through his spokesman Liam Anderson on Friday. “I also look forward to working with state and local regulators to better understand the problem, find solutions and demand accountability. And, if malpractice or malfeasance is discovered over the course of this investigation, I’m committed to using all the congressional authority at my disposal to hold any bad actor responsible to the fullest extent of the law.” 

State officials  

Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, and a coalition of California legislators issued an urgent letter Thursday 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. 

She called for a meeting with the officials in charge of the state agencies working on the problem and planned to be more involved going forward.  

“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,” she wrote in the letter.  

Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said in a phone interview Thursday with The Signal that the situation is a crisis, and added that he’s noticed the problem and felt the impacts of the odors. 

Wilk commended Barger for pushing to get Val Verde and Castaic residents relocated. He said the landfill, which is owned by Waste Connections, a national corporation, should take seriously the fact that a federal agency is now stepping in to oversee the situation.  

Wilk likened the issue to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in 2015 and said, whatever the ultimate outcome is, the resolution is likely to take a good deal of time.  

“I’m pretty confident based upon talking to various agencies — particularly now that the EPA is involved — that the coordination is there and the political will is there, it’s just a question of getting it done,” he said, adding that it will take more time than residents would like, but he didn’t think a shutdown order would achieve the goal.  

“That won’t achieve what everyone wants,” he said, adding that CalRecycle and the county drew the same conclusion, “which is to make the Castaic and Val Verde communities safe again.” 

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