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AQMD panel approves changes, restrictions for Rainbow's H.B. waste facility

The ball is now in Rainbow Environmental Services' court to implement changes and restrictions approved for its Huntington Beach trash facility on Thursday by a hearing board for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

After five meetings since Nov. 7 consisting of witnesses' testimony, public comments and deliberations, the five-member board unanimously approved an extensive list of operational changes and conditions for Rainbow's facility in an effort to reduce and prevent dust and odors emanating from the business.

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"This is perhaps, at least in my experience, which goes back more than half a century, the most comprehensive odor-control program, and I'm looking forward to its results," panel chairman Edward Camarena said.

Rainbow officials declined to comment Thursday.

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In late September, AQMD staff and Rainbow submitted to the hearing board a list of proposals they had agreed on in an effort to address complaints from the facility's neighbors in the Oak View community, which includes Oak View Elementary School across the street from the trash and recycling operation.

The panel's duty was to determine whether the changes are justified.

AQMD has issued 13 notices of violation to Rainbow since 2013, and the agency says the company has agreed to pay $130,000 in fines as a settlement.

The biggest change to be made to Rainbow's 17.6-acre facility on Nichols Lane near Warner Avenue is that the areas where the company collects and sorts solid waste, green waste, recyclables and construction and demolition debris need to be enclosed by Dec. 1, 2017. AQMD staff and Rainbow believe the enclosures, estimated to cost $10 million, will greatly reduce the odors and dust drifting into the neighborhood.

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The areas for solid waste, green waste and recyclables will be fully enclosed, while the facility for construction and demolition debris will be partially enclosed.

The enclosure for solid waste also is required to have misting systems to help mitigate odors.

If the enclosures aren't built by the deadline, Rainbow would be subjected to a $250,000 fine.

"This has evolved into an order which will, I truly believe, abate all potential nuisances within the two-year period of the enclosures being built and I think will very strongly begin to address these issues in the interim," panel member Julie Prussack said.

Karin Manwaring, senior deputy district counsel for AQMD, said she was pleased with the order and with the hearing board "for taking the time they did to consider the evidence and testimony."

During construction of the new facilities, Rainbow will be restricted to receiving a maximum total of 2,300 tons of waste each day and no more than 2,000 tons of solid waste, which the panel believes is a major source of odors. While the solid-waste enclosure is being built, it cannot accept more than 1,300 tons of solid waste per day.

The business currently is permitted to receive up to 4,000 tons of waste per day. After all the enclosures are completed, that limit will be restored.

Rainbow also is being barred from receiving "hot loads" — extremely odorous trash — and waste from supermarkets that contain animal trimmings.

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Rainbow has agreed to do daily monitoring of asbestos around its facility for at least three months. Should the potentially hazardous building material be found at the site, AQMD could temporarily shut down collection of construction and demolition debris if Rainbow is unable to prove it was not the company's fault.

The vast amounts of testimony and evidence presented during the meetings persuaded the hearing board to strengthen some conditions to try to ensure relief for Oak View residents.

To help improve public outreach, AQMD is requiring that Rainbow publish a newsletter, in English and Spanish, for businesses and residences within 1,000 feet of the facility regarding the operations there. The first newsletter is due by Jan. 15, with a second required by March 1. Newsletters will be published quarterly after that.

"There's been a breakdown in trust with the community there, and it became very apparent during our hearing," panel member Tom Eichhorn said. "Once you lose the public trust, it's very difficult to get it back. You've got to start somewhere, and I think this is a good start."

Gina Clayton-Tarvin, board president of the Ocean View School District, which oversees Oak View Elementary, said she appreciates what AQMD staff and the hearing board have done but that more work is needed to rid the neighborhood of all nuisances.

"They're the one and only regulatory agency that has worked for the students, staff and residents of Oak View, and for that we are grateful," she said.

Clayton-Tarvin said she still would like the area for construction and demolition debris to be fully enclosed and for another agency to address vector and noise issues related to Rainbow.

The AQMD hearing board will meet April 13 for a progress report on the project.

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