The immediate future of the Puente Hills Landfill has been put in doubt by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who rejected an environmental study of plans to keep it open for 10 more years and to fill nearby canyons with trash.
Judge Diane Wayne ruled Thursday that the environmental impact report by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, which operates the landfill, did not sufficiently inform the public about the environmental effects of the proposed expansion.
Wayne also wrote that the report did not adequately examine the expansion effect on drinking water supplies beneath the landfill, and failed to spell out plans to transport trash by rail to remote locations in Utah and Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The environmental report's conclusion that the expansion would have no significant impact on ground water was not supported by two studies that showed the landfill is leaking hazardous substances and that present mitigation measures had failed, she wrote.
In about a month, the judge is expected to tell the Sanitation Districts, a grouping of cities in the county, what to do to fix the report.
Officials from the Sanitation Districts said that if the judge requires only minor changes to the report, the landfill expansion can proceed as scheduled.
"It's not clear what the impact of the ruling is yet," said Theresa Dodge, an engineer with the Sanitation Districts.
But one effect, barring other legal maneuvers, could be to let the landfill's operating permit expire on schedule next month, close the gates and force many cities and hauling contractors to take their trash elsewhere.
Landfill opponents said they will fight to shut down the landfill Oct. 31, when the current operating permit runs out.
In July, the County Board of Supervisors decided to keep the landfill open 10 more years and allow it to expand eastward to within 1,750 feet of homes in Hacienda Heights.
"If the Sanitation Districts want to go forward with the landfill's expansion, they will have to redo the report," said Jeffrey Dintzer, an attorney for the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District and Hacienda Heights Home Improvement Assn. Dintzer filed the lawsuit asking the court to rule on the adequacy of the report.
He said it could take landfill operators months to study the ground water and come up with solutions if any pollution is found.
In the meantime, Dintzer said, the Sanitation Districts should not be allowed to keep operating the landfill after the current permit runs out--even though it has room to accept trash for three more years without expanding.
"Legally, a (new) permit cannot be based on a faulty report," he said.
Last month he filed a separate lawsuit against the county in Los Angeles Superior Court challenging the landfill expansion. He said Judge Wayne's ruling in this case increases the chances that the homeowners will win that lawsuit. No date has been set for a hearing.
Officials from the Sanitation Districts have warned that the county would face a trash crisis if the landfill is closed. They say more than 60 cities would be forced to scramble to find other means to dispose of more than 13,000 tons of garbage a day.