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Puente Hills Landfill Reaches Capacity, Set To Close November 1

Long Beach SERRF Director Monitoring
Potential Impacts On Local Waste-To-Energy Plant

By Tiffany L. Rider - Staff Writer

October 22, 2013 – After 55 years of operation, the largest landfill in the state is shuttering on November 1. The Puente Hills landfill, located in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County near Whittier, has reached capacity.

Los Angeles County currently disposes of 28,000 tons of trash per day, 20 percent of which is sent to facilities outside the county. About a third of the trash disposed within the county ends up in the Puente Hills landfill, according to Chuck Boehmke, head of the solid waste management department of the L.A. County Sanitation District (LACSD). That amounts to about 7,000 tons of trash per day.

According to a 2012 report from LACSD, the cumulative total of waste deposited in the Puente Hills landfill since 1958 to last summer was approximately 127.6 million tons. The landfill spans 1,365 acres – the area of about 1,032 football fields.

Starting November 1, the trash once accepted at Puente Hills landfill is being diverted to three out-of-county landfills, most going to San Bernardino and Orange counties and some to Riverside County.

Trash trucks haul waste from municipalities to recovery facilities to be sorted for recyclables before being transferred out to landfills. According to Boehmke, there is plenty of capacity at the Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility (MRF) and Downey Area Recycling and Transfer center and at a transfer station in South Gate. “About half of [the trash] is going directly to San Bernardino,” he said. “So about 3,500 tons per day can be easily managed by these MRFs.”

Boehmke said LACSD has been closing the landfill for many years. The final step is the development of an engineered soil cap of about five feet thick to cover the top of the landfill, which will then be irrigated and landscaped. That top deck area is approximately 120 acres and will take about 18 months to complete, he said. Once completed, LACSD is obligated to turn the property over to the county parks and recreation department for the development of park space.

“When our closure happens, the sanitation districts will be there for many decades to come because of its environmental control systems,” Boehmke said. “The park won’t have to take care of maintaining the landfill.”

Even so, there are job reductions associated with the landfill closure. Puente Hills currently has about 125 workers between staff and contract employees. That number drops down to 80 on November 1, Boehmke said. After the 18-month capping and landscaping project is finished, the landfill will be down to 45 workers.

“We’ve been working on that for many years and have been able to make positions available in other divisions,” he said. “There are many contract and temporary employees who will be let go November 1. A number of positions had to take demotions. It has been difficult on some. Thankfully we’ve been planning well ahead so our staff have positions in our agency.”

In addition to job loss, the landfill’s closure comes with another cost. Prices are going up at the Puente Hills MRF to about $45.75 per ton from $42.44. “We feel that’s pretty reasonable,” Boehmke said.

Charlie Tripp, director of the Southeast Resource Recovery Facility (SERRF) waste-to-energy plant in Long Beach, said he is keeping a close watch on costs and waste distribution as the landfill shuts down.

The landfill closure may result in some trash haulers currently using Puente Hills switching to SERRF. Tripp said it is important for trash haulers to evaluate the economics of using the landfill in Orange County compared to SERRF.

“Local entities using Puente Hills now may find it more economical to drive to SERRF,” he said, though SERRF’s fee per ton is currently about $10 more than the Puente Hills price. Typically, a municipality will use a nearby landfill to save on transportation costs, Tripp said.

SERRF, located at 120 Pier S Ave., regularly provides 30 megawatts of power to the city by burning a consistent, steady stream of waste. While the market fluctuates – Tripp said the amount of waste spikes during the winter holiday season – that tonnage is fairly consistent. At times when tonnage is down, SERRF has worked with LACSD to provide waste.

“In the future, since we’ll be transporting our waste from the Puente Hills MRF to Orange County, it will be a shorter haul,” Boehmke said. “It will be more desirable, when SERRF needs it, to take waste there since it’s being hauled in that direction.”