Waste Connections wins appeal over $5.1M landfill penalty in California
- Waste Connections has successfully appealed a 2017 enforcement order from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works involving the Chiquita Canyon Landfill in California. The order would have cost the company $2.4 million in unpaid solid waste fees and $2.7 million in administrative penalties.
- This appeal stemmed from a dispute over how much inbound clean soil Chiquita Canyon was reporting and how much material the landfill was directing toward beneficial reuse applications between 2011-2014. The county maintained that no more than 20% of all material being received could count toward beneficial reuse, and said 1.6 million tons would retroactively be subject to solid waste fees regardless of final use.
- Following a Sept. 2018 administrative hearing, the presiding officer found Chiquita had never disposed of clean soil and that the DPW lacks the authority to “reclassify clean soil as excessive beneficial reuse material, making it waste and subject to the fee." The officer also found the 20% ratio to be "arbitrary."
According to the hearing officer's Feb. 20 decision, the dispute started with a routine audit in 2015 to ensure Chiquita had been paying the correct amount of solid waste fees. The audit initially came back clear, but was later rescinded after Los Angeles County questioned the landfill's use of clean soil and the parties disagreed whether it had to be reported or not. The landfill agreed to begin reporting soil tonnage, despite not being required to do so by the state, at which point the county took its position seeking retroactive fees.
Waste Connections says it uses this clean soil to beneficial ends, including roadbeds, erosion control, slope building and alternative daily cover.
“The company is pleased with the decision and appreciates the close attention of the hearing officer to the evidence and law," said James Little, senior vice president for engineering and disposal, in a statement. "We’re proud of how we can repurpose large amounts of soil, C&D, green waste and other beneficial reuse material to make this a best in class landfill. We value our relationship with the regulators in Los Angeles County and look forward to continuing to work with them to help Chiquita Canyon meet the needs of its many municipal and commercial customers in the Los Angeles area.”
Los Angeles County did not respond to a request for comment as of publication.
While the details may be site-specific, the results are being touted as a potential model for questions about beneficial reuse elsewhere.
"It has national importance in terms of the vindication of beneficial reuse materials, which all landfills make use of," James Slaughter, lead counsel for Waste Connections in this case and a principal at Beveridge & Diamond, told Waste Dive. "...Chiquita used a significant amount of beneficial reuse material, providing a service to businesses homeowners and municipalities that had to dispose of it."
Chiquita Canyon is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by Waste Connections against Los Angeles County over the terms of its July 2017 conditional use permit, which it considers onerous. While the county's enforcement order came in Sept. 2017 after the suit had been filed, Slaughter cautioned against making any inferences about the timing.
"This was a discrete enforcement effort by the county regarding the solid waste fee," he said. "The conditional use permit that was issued in July 2017 is still being challenged in court."
That conditional use permit case is scheduled to go to trial in June. A separate suit over a planned landfill expansion, filed by citizen groups against both the landfill and the county, is also ongoing.
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