The fate of Waste Connections’ expansion of its Chiquita Canyon Landfill is on the line, thanks to an ongoing debate between the company, Los Angeles County and local residents and organizations. The landfill was slated to close when it reached 23 million tons, or by November 2019, but Waste Connections proposed an expansion last year that would extend the landfill’s life by 30 years.
On April 19, Waste Connections received approval for the landfill expansion, and residents and local organizations began fighting back against the county’s decision and arguing that the landfill should close as it was intended to because its environmental issues could put their health at risk. The residents and organizations took place in a protest following the county’s decision, and the organizations threatened to submit appeals against the expansion approval.
The Chiquita Canyon Landfill is currently operating beyond its maximum ton capacity via a temporary waiver granted by the director of regional planning and will remain operating under that wavier until a final decision about the landfill expansion is determined.
Waste Connections did not respond to requests for comment on this piece.
Here is what you need to know about the Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion.
Where is the Chiquita Canyon Landfill located and what materials does the landfill accept?
The 639-acre landfill is located in Castaic, Calif., and has provided the Santa Clarita Valley and surrounding Los Angeles communities with environmentally safe and efficient waste disposal services for more than 40 years.
The Chiquita Canyon Landfill only accepts non-hazardous solid waste for disposal, including municipal solid waste, green waste for composting or recycling, construction and demolition debris and e-waste for recycling. The landfill does not accept air conditioners, refrigerators, biohazardous waste, hazardous waste like ignitable, corrosive or toxic waste, ammunition, radioactive materials and empty storage bins and household hazardous waste like paints, oils, batteries, pesticides, anti-freeze, fluorescent lights and propane tanks.
What are the details of Waste Connections’ expansion of the landfill?
With the expansion, the landfill will be widened by 143 acres, the maximum elevation will be increased from 1,430 feet to 1,573 feet and the operating hours will extend from various daily hours to 24 hours, with the exception of closing from 5 p.m. on Saturdays to 4 p.m. on Mondays.
In addition, the expansion will boost the daily disposal tonnage from 6,000 to 12,000 tons, the weekly disposal tonnage from 30,000 to 60,000 tons and the maximum amount of tonnage from 23 million to 60 million tons.
The expansion also comes with an updated permit, which requires Waste Connections to raise fees on out-of-area waste.
In response to the commission’s approval of the expansion, Waste Connections has released a statement saying, “Waste Connections intends to appeal the Commission's decision to the Board of Supervisors and expects a public hearing on the appeal prior to the final vote, which is expected to occur within the next two to three months. If the Board of Supervisors approves the conditional use permit without modification, the Company believes continued operation of the site likely to be economically unviable due to the proposed operational restrictions and significant fee increases.”
Why are residents upset about the landfill expansion?
In 1997, the landfill’s former owners Laidlaw Waste Systems came to an agreement with the Val Verde Civic Association that the landfill operators would pay the community more than $250,000 a year while the landfill was operating and close the landfill when it surpassed the 23-million ton capacity it was originally permitted for, or by November 2019. The funds, which were to be managed by an independent board of residents, civic leaders, county officials and Laidlaw, was to be used for scholarships, youth sports programs and other community activities.
As the landfill came close to reaching its capacity in 2016, Waste Connections proposed an expansion of the landfill, which would extend its life for 30 more years. The action caused an outcry from local activists, who submitted a civil rights complaint stating that residents of the mostly Latino community did not receive notices or public meetings in Spanish informing them about the proposed expansion. The complaint filed with Los Angeles County remains unresolved to this day.
In June 2016, the landfill reached its capacity and activists and residents pushed for closure of the landfill. But instead of closing the landfill, the director of regional planning granted Waste Connections with a temporary waiver to continue operations while remaining in compliance with the landfill’s footprint and height limits until a final decision about its expansion proposal was made.
The landfill expansion raised concerns amongst residents because it would cause the current conditions to change and the landfill to remain open longer than originally anticipated. The conditions, which will be agreed upon by Waste Connections and the Los Angeles County, are unknown at this time according to Waste Connections Vice President of Southern California Mike Dean.
While the expansion concerns remain top of mind, residents are also worried about odors and other environmental issues. From January 1, 2014, to September 8, 2014, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) received 146 complaints from residents about the landfill’s odors. Since receiving the complaints, the SCAQMD has investigated the odors at the landfill and found that the odors were found elsewhere in adjacent communities.
How are residents and local organizations voicing their concerns?
Residents and organizations recently joined forces to protest the Los Angeles County Planning Commission’s decision to allow Waste Connections to move forward with the landfill expansion. During the protest, members of the Santa Clarita Organization for Protecting the Environment (SCOPE), the Val Verde Civic Association and the Citizens for Chiquita Canyon Landfill Compliance announced that they had filed separate appeals of the commission’s decision.
“(The three organizations) are joining forces to demand that the County of Los Angeles keep their promise to the Community of Val Verde to close this landfill,” said the group in a joint statement. “We are announcing our intention to appeal the approval of this permit and will continue the fight for closure.”
One activist, Darrell Park, suggested using the Mesquite Regional Landfill in El Centro, Calif., instead of Chiquita because it’s a paid-for facility that is capable of holding 100 years of trash.
“We are here for one reason and one reason only, to make sure this landfill is shut down forever,” Park said to The Signal. “Who believes their government needs to keep its promises? All of us.”
As of April 27, appeals have not yet been filed by any of the organizations. The organizations have until May 6 to file their appeals against the landfill expansion.
What’s at stake?
If the landfill expansion is appealed, Waste Connections can continue operations under its issued waiver until a public hearing is set and county supervisors uphold or appeal the planning commission’s decision.
Depending on if appeals are filed and the outcome of a potential public hearing, Waste Connections could move forward with its expansion plans and operate the landfill for 30 more years (or until it reaches the newly approved capacity of 60 million tons), or the company could deem the landfill unviable and close the landfill for good.