LA County Supervisors may push for solutions to Sunshine Canyon stench

Sunshine Canyon is Los Angeles County's largest landfill.
Sunshine Canyon is Los Angeles County's largest landfill.
Sunshine Canyon Landfill Local Enforcement Agency

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion Tuesday that would direct three county agencies to explore ways to address the persistent stench that has wafted from the Sunshine Canyon Landfill over Granada Hills neighborhoods.

The motion, by Supervisor Michael Antonovich, would order the departments of regional planning and public works to review the 2009 conditional use permit that allowed the landfill to expand its operations, with an eye towards identifying "any and all Conditions of Approval and enforcement tools to eliminate landfill odors."

The measure would also direct the head of the Department of Public Health to explore actions it could take to address the odors, "including, but not limited to, the issuance of a Notice of Violation."

Over the past eight years, the landfill has generated more than 9,300 odor complaints and received more than 180 notices of violation from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, according to Antonovich's motion. 

Sunshine Canyon's operator, Republic Services, has taken a number of steps to mitigate the smell, but Antonovich's motion suggests he believes they have been insufficient.

"The landfill operator has had more than ample opportunity to correct the odor problem," it says. "Therefore, it is important for the County to do everything within its power to alleviate the odor nuisance impacting the community."

"We're disappointed in the county’s motion," said Republic Services Market Vice President Dave Hauser, "given the facility has been in full compliance with all County permit conditions and we have worked effectively for many years with the Department of Public Works to address concerns from the community."

He noted in a statement that since 2011, "Republic Services has invested $27 million in improvements to the landfill gas system and other mitigation efforts which have been recognized by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the [joint L.A. city-county enforcement agency for Sunshine Canyon] as significantly improving the elimination of odors from leaving the site."

Hauser also claimed that "a significant percentage" of the complaints about the landfill's smell come from a small group of activists who have "a financial interest" because they are suing Sunshine Canyon.

The landfill hired "an independent expert" to analyze the roughly 5,000 odor complaints sent to the AQMD between Jan. 2009 and Feb. 2014, and "the review found that nearly 70 percent ... were filed by the same 20 people who are long-time opponents of Sunshine Canyon and are part of a lawsuit against the landfill," he said.

Antonovich, who was unavailable for comment, is asking the county to take action at the same time that the AQMD is seeking approval for a nuisance abatement order that would curtail Sunshine Canyon's operations. 

The proposed order would, among other things, cut the landfill's daily trash quota from 9,000 tons to 6,000, and ban trucks from delivering waste from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. each day.

Republic Services argues that cutting its quota would require diverting up to 175 semi-trailers a day to other Southern California landfills, resulting in more air pollution and increased freeway congestion. 

The AQMD's Hearing Board, an independent quasi-judicial panel appointed by the agency's Governing Board, will decide whether to approve the abatement order. Its next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 25 at AQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar.

Republic Services can use 363 acres of its 1,000-acre Sylmar property as landfill. At any one time, trash is being dumped in an area encompassing 1 1/2 to 2 acres, said spokesman Armando Saleh.

The $27 million the company has spent to keep smells from escaping has paid for nearly 600 gas collection wells and 15 miles of pipe leading to flares or a 16-megawatt power plant that burns off the gas, he said.

The company has also planted 20,000 oak trees and installed fence line misters and a perimeter vapor control system, said Saleh.