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Lopez Closure Would Strain Other Dumps

Times Staff Writer

The gate at the Puente Hills landfill, just off the Pomona Freeway, opens shortly before 6 every morning to admit a seemingly endless parade of trash trucks, dump trucks, long-beds, tractor-trailers and pickups, all laden with refuse.

It is a noisy procession of ugly, utilitarian vehicles, enlivened by an oddity here and there. One big refuse truck carries the slogan: “Drugs are Garbage.” A tree-service truck sputters forward so overloaded with branches and greenery that it seems to be lurching toward a mechanical breakdown. A pickup truck, dwarfed by the huge trucks alongside, moves forward with a light load: a broken stool, old garden hoses and a batch of odds and ends that probably sat for years in someone’s garage.

The air carries an odor that, while not overwhelming, remains a constant reminder that this is the largest dump in Los Angeles County.

Puente Hills is also, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts officials say, the second busiest landfill in the nation, handling about 13,200 tons a day and trailing only a dump on Staten Island, N.Y., in trash volume.

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It is one of four large landfills in the San Gabriel Valley, any or all of which may soon become even busier if the city of Los Angeles is forced to close its landfill at Lopez Canyon.

The city and the state Waste Management Board are disputing how much trash can be deposited at that landfill, which handles about 4,000 tons a day. City officials say they could be forced to shut down the landfill within a year.

Even without the addition of Lopez Canyon trash, dumps in the San Gabriel Valley handle 26,000 tons of refuse every day, more than half of the trash dumped in Los Angeles County. Landfills presently reduce their hours to stay within their daily disposal limits. And as dumps continue to fill and close early, trucks must travel farther, meaning more air pollution and higher trash collection rates.

Steve Maguin, who oversees Puente Hills and other landfills run by the county Sanitation Districts, said trash haulers are using more trucks and sending them farther because of the shortage of landfill space. Maguin said early daily closure of the Puente Hills landfill is becoming “more and more routine.”

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When Puente Hills is closed, most trash trucks head for the Sanitation Districts’ Spadra landfill in Pomona or the privately owned BKK landfill in West Covina.

Population Growth

Maguin said the Spadra landfill, which is permitted to receive 18,000 tons of trash a week, is beginning to fill up early too, partly because of the overflow from Puente Hills and partly because of growth in the east San Gabriel Valley area.

The primary beneficiary of the landfill shortage has been the West Covina landfill owned by the BKK Corp. Six years ago, when its landfill was the only hazardous waste dump in Southern California, BKK Corp. grossed $23 million a year taking in waste that no one else could handle.

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But the revenue dropped abruptly in 1984, when pressure from the public and state and federal regulators forced BKK to close its landfill to hazardous waste. Reduced to competing with other dumps for household trash, BKK Corp. saw its landfill revenue plummet to under $7 million a year.

But with landfill space for household trash becoming increasingly scarce, the BKK landfill is a huge revenue producer again. The city of West Covina, which levies a 10% tax on landfill revenue, estimates that the BKK landfill will gross $25 million to $30 million this year.

2nd in Volume

BKK corporate counsel Ronald Gastelum said the landfill receives 9,500 to 10,000 tons of trash a day, ranking it just behind Puente Hills in trash volume countywide.

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The Sanitation Districts also run the Scholl Canyon landfill, which is owned by the city of Glendale and accepts trash only from Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge, San Marino and Sierra Madre. It takes about 2,500 tons of trash a day.

Maguin said the Sanitation Districts have prohibited Los Angeles from dumping trash at the Puente Hills and Spadra landfills, and Scholl Canyon cannot take Los Angeles trash. Officials at the privately owned Azusa Land Reclamation Co. said they don’t have room to take any trash from Los Angeles. That landfill is operating at capacity--1,500 tons a day.

The BKK landfill takes some trash from Los Angeles. Gastelum said BKK could not handle all of the Los Angeles trash that goes to Lopez Canyon but would “be willing to help out on a temporary basis,” taking some for six months or so while the city searches for alternatives. In return, he said, BKK Corp. would like a chance to participate in a recycling program that the city is developing.

Traffic Worries

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West Covina City Manager Herman R. (Bob) Fast said more trash from Los Angeles might create traffic problems near the BKK dump. If it does, he said, the city would ask BKK Corp. to regulate the hours of disposal to ease congestion. He said West Covina has been advised by its attorney that it has no legal right to restrict the source of the trash BKK takes.

Fast said that if BKK increases its trash volume, one benefit to landfill opponents might be to advance the dump’s closure date by a few months by filling the disposal area early. BKK Corp. has an agreement with the city to close its West Covina landfill in 1995 or earlier.

The company is attempting to establish a new dump at Elsmere Canyon near Newhall.

The Elsmere Canyon landfill is one of a number of proposals to provide new dump capacity in Los Angeles County. There are also proposals to haul trash by rail to remote disposal sites outside the county.

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But, Maguin said, none of the alternatives is likely to occur soon, and the landfill shortage may worsen.

“If Lopez Canyon were to close, that really forces the issue,” he said.


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