Faced with the threat that the state might take over West Covina's power to grant permits for BKK Landfill, the city and the landfill company set their longstanding arguments aside and took tentative steps toward updating BKK's solid waste permit.
The permit has been out of date since 1984, and the state Integrated Waste Management Board had threatened to strip West Covina of its permitting authority in order to get the permit updated. The city and the controversial landfill's operators have accused each other of stalling the permit process. Now they've gone back to the table to work out their differences.
The permit process does not affect the issue of when the landfill will close, which has been one of the major debates in West Covina for the past few years.
Last week, the waste management board tabled until March 29 a decision on whether to take over the permit process, giving the two parties a chance to come to an agreement.
At that time, the city and landfill company are to present a work plan for revising the permit and conducting an environmental review of the operation, a process that will probably take seven to nine months, said Ralph Chandler, executive chief of staff for the board.
"If they're making progress toward getting the permit updated, I'm sure the board will refrain from taking up discussion of decertification of the (city's) permitting authority," Chandler said.
BKK's solid-waste permit was originally issued in 1979 and was slated for review every five years. But the first review was delayed until 1987 while the city evacuated 21 homes that sat in the path of gas migration from the landfill, said Michael Miller, director of environmental services for the city.
In 1987, the city reviewed the permit but did not update it, mostly because of disputes over environmental review.
Operations such as asbestos and auto shredder waste disposal, sewage sludge processing and an increase in the amount of trash the site accepts each day all required environmental review, Miller said.
"They would change things a little bit and we'd have to assess whether that affected the project description, and if it did we'd have to go back to square one," Miller said.
BKK's owners contend that an environmental review of the operations is not necessary, saying there was no tonnage limit in their original permit. The landfill takes in 12,000 tons of trash a day, compared with 4,400 tons in 1979.
Even so, the landfill's attorney said, BKK has tried to cooperate with the city's efforts to conduct environmental reviews, but the city itself has dropped the ball.
"We have paid a quarter of a million for their experts to prepare an (environmental impact report), attorney Gary Kovall said. "The fact that they can't get a permit done in eight years is not our problem."
BKK's owners also contend that the city, which has filed several lawsuits against the landfill, is using the permit review as a weapon in its fight to close the landfill.
In 1993 the city filed a lawsuit asserting that BKK agreed to shut down its landfill operations this year. That suit was due to go to trial last week but has been postponed because no courtroom was available.