The following is an interesting article that ran today on the front page of the Daily Breeze about the Palos Verdes Landfill that also includes references to my husbands and my efforts to establish a dog park there:
A land full of choices
By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer Posted: 08/16/2010 10:25:34 AM PDT
Ethan Laden, manager of landfill operations at the Palos Verdes landfill discusses the power plant, which runs on methane gas collected from the landfill. (STEVE McCRANK)
Nearly 30 years after the Palos Verdes Landfill stopped accepting household trash and hazardous waste, the site is carpeted in a lush, green expanse of trees, shrubs and grass.
On Saturday, it was dotted with joggers as part of The Hills Are Alive annual race, and it's regularly populated by local equestrians and dog-walkers who traverse its trails.
Some would say the 173-acre site has rebounded from decades as a dump.
But the Rolling Hills Estates landfill is still crisscrossed by an active network of pipes and monitoring wells that control a mix of noxious gases produced by decaying matter beneath a 7-foot layer of clean soil. As the refuse decomposes, the ground shifts.
Now, more than four years after a long-running bid to turn the landfill into a golf course met with defeat, it's not clear what the future holds for one of the few remaining pieces of open land on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Last month, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts officials announced they probably will not complete a major upgrade planned for an aging power plant on the landfill.
And Supervisor Don Knabe, who largely controls the county-run site's future uses, recently brought to a halt a citizen-led effort to build a fenced dog park on a 3-acre portion of the parcel.
Those developments have led a group of landfill-focused activists - vigilant about the site's potential human health impacts - to suspect that there is a secret plan in the works.
That's not the case, insists Knabe, who came under fire for backing the golf course.
"When people say, `What's going on up there?' nothing's going on," Knabe said. "A few people would like to say that Supervisor Knabe is trying to push another golf course. No, I'm absolutely not. You would have thought I was putting a raceway up there."
Opened by a private company in 1952 after decades as a diatomite mine, the original 271-acre landfill was operated by the county from 1957 to 1980, when it was filled to capacity. It took in mostly household waste and inert construction refuse, but also accepted hazardous material.
Long before the 173-acre main site was shut down, the South Coast Botanic Garden opened in 1961 on 87 acres of the former landfill. The city of Rolling Hills Estates built its equestrian center on the main landfill site, and inherited another 35 acres, opening Ernie Howlett Park in 1977.
Robert Ferrante, head of solid waste management for the Sanitation Districts, said the facilities show that concerns about safety are overblown. He has often said the landfill is the subject of intense oversight, and has pointed to a state review that found potential contamination from the site has been appropriately contained.
"There's been so much misinformation out there about a site that so many people enjoy," said Ferrante, whose agency operates environmental controls on the landfill. "There's been a lot of successful reuse. The botanic gardens is a testament to an old dump - I hate to use that word - being converted into something the community benefits from."
But at the same time, maintenance will continue at the main site for decades, Ferrante said.
That makes it difficult to plan for future uses.
"The problem is you have lots of systems here you've got to manage. Not that it's dangerous," said Ethan Laden, an engineer who oversees landfill operations.
The district is now challenged with figuring out how to manage the declining amount of gas that's coming out of the landfill.
In the 1980s, the districts built a power plant to turn methane gas from the landfill into electricity. Because the landfill put out less and less gas of increasingly lower quality over the years, the amount of power being produced has declined by about 80 percent.
Four years ago, the Sanitation Districts planned a
$10 million upgrade - involving a high-tech fuel cell and eight microturbines - to better take advantage of that declining gas flow.
But because of an unrelated legal challenge to regional air district regulations, the sanitation officials could not get a permit for the new plant until this spring.
The delay means the amount of power produced would not be worth the cost of the new plant, Ferrante said.
Officials are now contemplating a downsized effort - or a flare that would burn off the landfill gas without producing any power.
"Frankly, the prognosis isn't good. Even the smaller projects aren't breaking even, when you look at the economics of the project," Ferrante said.
Joan Davidson, a Palos Verdes Estates activist who is a frequent presence at public meetings on The Hill, said the district should provide the best-available technology regardless of cost.
"It's not a business. This is a public health agency. ... This is an agency that is supposed to oversee this landfill in the best way possible," Davidson said.
Though she supports the power plant upgrade, she has appealed the project for review by federal authorities. Davidson and fellow activists did so because she thought a study of the new flare was inadequate, she said.
She spoke at a Rolling Hills Estates council meeting last week, questioning the Sanitation Districts' motives for abandoning its upgrade. Melody Colbert, a colleague of Davidson's on a citizens board that was part of a state environmental review of the landfill, linked the change of plans to the dog park situation.
Davidson said in an interview that there was suspicion that the dog park was stalled because Knabe has other plans for the landfill.
"I have never seen 175 vacant acres not used in the Palos Verdes Peninsula," Davidson said.
But Knabe said he has asked dog park advocates to look elsewhere on The Hill because the county needs to evaluate operations at its first canine facility in La Crescenta, set to open next June.
Options for Palos Verdes Landfill site reuse remain hazy, Knabe said. He has weighed a proposal for a plant nursery - either for a private business or for the county's parks department. The dog park movement, pushed by a pair of canine supporters from Palos Verdes Estates, was the newest idea, he said.
"I've thought about a park or some sort of thing ... similar to what we have at the arboretum," he added, referring to the county facility in Arcadia. "I've still got scars on my back from the (golf course issue). I really haven't pursued much."
Davidson said she'd support a passive park - as long as it was clear the site was safe.
Rolling Hills Estates Mayor John Addleman, chairman of a new citizens advisory committee for the landfill, said the sanitation officials need to complete their work on the power plant.
Only then can locals - and county officials - dream about what they might like to see there.
"It really is a lovely spot," Addleman said. "I'd love - it's not going to happen - it to be open space. Hopefully, pipes would be taken down, but I know that's not going to happen."