Four mountain canyons ringing the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys are environmentally suitable for use as landfills, according to a county report to be released today that suggests that at least three of them eventually will have to become dumps to solve Los Angeles County’s waste disposal problems.
The draft environmental impact report appears to set the stage for increasingly heated conflicts over the future of the rustic land, pitting dump proponents against parkland supporters.
County sanitation officials have long touted the sites as potential dumps and have been trying to acquire property in the canyons--Towsley, Elsmere, Blind and Mission-Rustic-Sullivan.
But the report is their first declaration that the sites are geologically suitable for landfills, and that they could be developed without serious risk to ground water supplies.
Most other environmental problems--such as noise, odor, dust and traffic--could be avoided or reduced by careful operation of landfills, according to the report.
It concedes that some problems, such as loss of wildlife habitat, are unavoidable.
The draft study, which has been in the works for nearly a year and a half, was sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which disposes of trash for 78 cities, and by the county Department of Public Works.
Sanitation officials face neighborhood opposition and serious political obstacles to turning the canyons into dumps. Elsmere Canyon is partially within the Angeles National Forest and the other three are part of county-designated Significant Ecological Areas--lands containing rare plants or valuable habitat.
Moreover, mountain parks and trails already exist or are planned in Towsley, Blind and Mission-Rustic-Sullivan.
In addition, the Mission-Rustic-Sullivan site provisionally has been put off limits to landfill development. A complex agreement reached earlier this year between Los Angeles city and county officials prohibits a dump at the site if a landfill is opened in Elsmere Canyon.
BKK Corp., a private waste disposal firm, is seeking approval for the Elsmere dump, with the understanding that the county and city will buy out its interest and operate the landfill once permits are obtained.
Two of the sites are within the Santa Clarita Valley: Elsmere, just north of Sylmar and east of the city of Santa Clarita; and Towsley, just west of the Golden State Freeway and south of the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park.
Blind Canyon is in the Santa Susana Mountains above Chatsworth, two miles north of the Simi Valley Freeway. Mission, Sullivan and Rustic--three canyons considered as a single dump site--are above Brentwood, immediately south of Mulholland Drive and west of the San Diego Freeway.
The lengthy environmental report does not rank the sites in order of suitability. However, it cites a need over 50 years for about 550 million more tons of publicly owned landfill capacity.
Don Nellor, chief of planning and engineering for the solid waste management department of the Sanitation Districts, acknowledged Thursday that developing at least three of the four canyons would meet that goal.
Officials said more specific plans for new landfills will be contained in the final version of the report, to be issued after public hearings and a 60-day comment period.
The report says new landfills are only a part of an “integrated” solid waste strategy needed to avert an “impending disposal crisis in Los Angeles County.”
The strategy also requires that existing landfills be expanded and waste reduction and recycling programs be aggressively pursued. In the short run, these two elements will be more crucial, the report says, because developing a new landfill takes five to seven years.
The report shows “we have to use the combination of solutions to avoid a serious and health-endangering trash crisis in the county,” said Steve Maguin, chief of solid waste management for the Sanitation Districts.
“Like the rest of the world, we’re simply throwing away far more trash than the land can absorb,” he said. “No solution will work unless all of us practice waste diversion.”
Under a state law that took effect in January, cities and counties must cut landfill disposal at least 25% by 1995, and 50% by the year 2000, by some combination of recycling and eliminating waste.
The draft report assumes these deadlines will be met, although it says it is uncertain how this can be done.
Even if the deadlines are met, the report says, new landfills and landfill expansions will be required to meet the needs of a county population growing about 1% per year.
Currently, 10 big landfills and 2 waste-to-energy plants take the county’s trash output of more than 48,000 tons per day. Seven of those landfills have room to expand--including Sunshine and Lopez canyons in the San Fernando Valley, Chiquita Canyon in the Santa Clarita Valley and Scholl Canyon in Glendale--but most face expiration of their permits within the next few years.
NEXT STEP Beginning today, the public has 60 days to comment on the draft of an environmental impact report that outlines the possible measures to handle the growing amount of solid waste generated in Los Angeles County each day. Public hearings will be held in October throughout the county. After the hearings, sanitation officials will make recommendations on, among other things, landfills and recycling when the final impact report is submitted to the board of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts and the Board of Supervisors. Copies of the report are available at selected county libraries. Copies of the 40-page summary are available at the Sanitation Districts, 1955 Workman Mill Road, Whittier 90607-4998. THE LANDFILL REPORT Sites deemed environmentally suitable TOWSLEY CANYON Capacity: 225 million tons Life span: 44 years Size of landfill: 760 acres Total project size: 5,700 acres BLIND CANYON Capacity: 130 million tons Life span: 25 years Size of landfill: 530 acres Total project size: 5,100 acres MISSION-RUSTIC-SULLIVAN CANYONS Capacity: 125 million tons Life span: 20 years Size of landfill: 1,005 acres Total project size: 3,325 acres ELSMERE CANYON Capacity: 225 million tons Life span: 50 years Size of landfill: 800 acres Total project size: 2,000 acres Political Considerations Towsley Canyon: The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has purchased 145 acres of parkland in the canyon and hopes to obtain more. Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Santa Clarita oppose a dump in Towsley. Blind Canyon: Entertainer Bob Hope has tentatively agreed to sell the canyon to the conservancy for a park. The canyon straddles Ventura and Los Angeles counties and would require approval from both counties to become a landfill. Elsmere Canyon: Located partly in Angeles National Forest, the canyon is just outside Santa Clarita, which opposes the dump. But an Elsmere landfill has the backing of the Los Angeles City Council and county Board of Supervisors. Mission-Rustic-Sullivan Canyons: Also sought by the conservancy for a park. The Los Angeles City Council and county Board of Supervisors say they will not allow a landfill there if a dump can be opened in Elsmere Canyon.