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Waste Hauler to Resume Use of O.C. Landfill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Under intense pressure from Orange County officials, an Anaheim trash hauler agreed Thursday to bring its business back to a county-run landfill by Sept. 1, ending a threat of increased garbage fees.

The hauler, Anaheim Disposal, had stunned county officials by pulling out of the Olinda landfill near Brea and beginning to ship most of its 2,500 tons of daily garbage to a private West Covina landfill.

That move, county officials said, would have cost Orange County about $12 million a year in lost gate fees at the Olinda landfill, a shortfall so serious that officials were considering asking Los Angeles County haulers to bring their garbage here.

Although that option still lingers as a distant possibility, county officials said late Thursday that it will be put off indefinitely because Anaheim Disposal has agreed to return.

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“We have made a corporate decision to re-utilize the Orange County landfills beginning Sept. 1,” Vincent Taormina, chief executive officer of Anaheim Disposal, said in a prepared statement. “We feel this decision, over the short and long term, will be in the best interest of the customers we serve as well as Orange County as a whole.”

The agreement was finalized between Taormina and Frank R. Bowerman, the director and chief engineer of the county’s Integrated Waste Management Department, over lunch Thursday, hours after news of the proposal to solicit Los Angeles garbage became public.

“Vince Taormina has assured me that effective Sept. 1, he will return all of the wastes to the Olinda landfill,” Bowerman said.

Bowerman credited Board of Supervisors Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez with persuading Taormina to bring his company’s business back to Orange County. Vasquez told Taormina that his family “had developed a great deal of respect from the county over the years, and this move was hurting that,” Bowerman said.

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Vasquez left town late Thursday, but earlier in the day he said he had met with Taormina and urged him to reconsider his company’s move.

“By doing what he has done, or at least what he’s thinking of doing, he jeopardized the whole system of waste management in Orange County,” Vasquez said. “When imbalances occur in the system, it affects everybody.”

The agreement by Anaheim Disposal to return its business to Orange County capped an extraordinary week of negotiations and scrutiny of how the county manages its waste. It saw county officials in the unusual role of asking for more garbage at a time when they are urging residents to recycle in order to relieve the pressure on local landfills, as ordered under state law.

The problem, officials said, was that the abrupt departure of such a large hauler--Anaheim Disposal picks up 15% of all Orange County garbage--threatened to unravel the budget for the county’s waste management department. Anaheim Disposal picks up trash from residents of Anaheim, Brea, Garden Grove, Placentia and Yorba Linda.

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The waste management department has an annual budget of $140 million, and it already is suffering cutbacks and has imposed a hiring freeze as a result of Anaheim Disposal’s temporary departure, as well as the recession and the success of local recycling efforts.

All told, those reductions left the department’s budget about $18 million short, forcing system managers to consider taking Los Angeles garbage, raising garbage collection fees or shutting down the Olinda landfill, either permanently or temporarily.

Most of the county supervisors balked at all of those options and instead asked Bowerman to try to persuade Taormina to bring the company’s business back.

“It is not our intent to disrupt or disable a system that currently, in our opinion, is the best system in the country,” Taormina said. “However, that is not to say that the current system cannot be improved to accomplish the challenging goals that lie ahead.”

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Taormina has said that the switch to the privately owned BKK landfill in West Covina was an experiment to determine whether the company could get a better deal for its customers.

“Our studies and results will be completed at the end of this month,” Taormina said. “We intend on sharing the information we have gathered with the Orange County Waste Commission.”

Although Anaheim Disposal’s decision to return to the county fold ends the immediate crisis, several members of the Board of Supervisors said the incident has sparked interest in moving quickly to revamp the county’s landfill system.

A majority of the board members said Thursday that they would support a new waste management arrangement that would commit local haulers to bringing their garbage to Orange County landfills. That would give the county a guarantee of the money it could expect to raise in dump fees and prevent any firm from abruptly pulling out its business.

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In addition, the county is investing creation of a joint-powers authority that would let cities play a more active role in determining the gate fees at the landfills.

Those two changes would represent an overhaul of the current system, but officials said the Anaheim Disposal move had reminded them of how little control the county has over its landfill planning.

“It seems to me that we should have some sort of contract to keep this thing from ever happening again,” Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said. “We’ve got to work this out.”

Vasquez and Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder agreed.

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“This came as a bombshell,” Wieder said. “We should never, never have been this vulnerable.”


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