By Deb Murphy
This all started with a Los Angeles Times article by Louis Sahagun two weeks ago.
Sahagun reminded the city’s readership of the 100-year history between LA and the Owens Valley. The punch line was the condemnation, or eminent domain, process Inyo had launched in May to acquire the land under three landfills, Bishop, Independence and Lone Pine. Sahagun’s title implied the County was “fighting back,” giving local media a chance to rehash the whole Bishop/Sunland landfill lease saga.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power sent out the next volley with a fact check on the article. This response, published on the department’s news website, noted the 2,500 violations those landfills incurred from Calrecycle since 1993.
The “Fact Check” states, “LADWP has concerns that the current management of the Bishop-Sunland Landfill, which is unlined and does not meet current regulatory standards, can negatively impact the watershed. Therefore, lease terms for the landfill were written to protect that land and the watershed.”
In reference to the condemnation process including water rights, the article maintains that would be “in conflict with the City Charter,” and “not necessarily part of the landfill condemnation proceedings.” Two weeks ago, Inyo Supervisor Jeff Griffiths said the water rights were a necessary part of the landfill operations.
LADWP’s solution: “Inyo County needs to build a modern landfill that meets all current standards outside of the Owens River watershed. LADWP is ready to partner with the County to pursue this solution….”
So, what about those pesky violations? The County’s Environmental Health Services conducts monthly inspections of the landfills. The State’s oversight agency, Calrecycle, shadows those inspections quarterly. Inyo’s Assistant Administrative Officer Rick Benson referred this reporter to the website with 24 years’ worth of inspection reports. Benson admitted the landfills had past issues, but “what’s relevant are them ore recent reports.”
On the issue of Inyo’s landfills not having a lining, Benson said new landfills are required to having a lining, but older ones simply are not. “We are operating totally and completely within the law,” he said.
He also said many of the violations noted in the reports were related to permit issues. Example: Bishop’s landfill requested a permit change that would expand the footprint within which trash could be dumped. LADWP didn’t sign off on that change until the lease was signed earlier this year. In the interim, the landfill received violations on each monthly report. Lone Pine’s landfill often exceeded its daily weight allowances. The fix was a permit change, Lone Pine doesn’t have a current lease; LADWP has yet to sign off on those changes with Calrecycle.
Ten years of violation reports boil down to the following: Bishop had a total of 153 violations, 123 were permit related. The most serious violations referred to methane gas, resolved in 2015 with gas extraction wells. Other violations included litter, restricted items in the wrong places and one incident of scavenging.
Lone Pine’s total was 83, 33 permit related. Other recurring violations were litter and a hole in the perimeter fencing. Independence came in at 105, 60 permit related. Others: a blown down sign, litter, faulty load checks and a household hazardous waste bin left unlocked.
When LADWP was asked about the Calrecycle violations, roughly 63-percent of which were related to Calrecycle permits, department officials responded with an e-mail citing violations by Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board for “failing to appropriately control landfill gas.” The e-mail also noted slight increases in volatile organic compounds in one monitoring well and the presence of trichloroemethene (an industrial solvent once used as an anesthetic but identified as a carcinogen and banned in 2011), not previously noted, in another well.
An attempt to rundown those violations turned up 2014 notations that Lahontan and the County were developing action plans to deal with the VOCs.
Benson said the guidelines for dealing with contaminated soils provided by Lahontan and Calrecycle didn’t match up and took some time to reconcile.
The e-mail went on to explain the review required before LADWP can sign off on permit revisions. The department did sign off on the revisions for Bishop in February and now Calrecycle is reviewing those revisions.
The e-mail repeated the earlier recommendation that Bishop/Sunland be closed and a new, modern, lined landfill be built. Benson estimated that would cost close to $17 million.
Inyo’s CAO Kevin Carunchio got in the last word with the statement: “It’s unfortunate that we have arrived at this point, however, Inyo County is charged with protecting the public health and safety in regards to handling garbage, and the way the landfill leases have been handled jeopardizes the County’s ability to do that and comply with a multiplicity of state mandates, laws and regulations. Right now, the three County landfills in the Owens Valley have a combined, legally-permitted capacity to accept trash for another 250 years. That’s already in the books and the County intends to operate these facilities as long as it can in compliance with all State requirements.”