Hope for winds of change at Miramar Landfill

Beginning September 30, the city will use tarps to cover the garbage

Miramar Landfill
  • Miramar Landfill

With the post-summer wind direction about to shift from east to west, the city and county are working overtime to solidify a plan to quell odor complaints that skyrocket between November and April against Miramar Landfill. Proposed measures have deadlines ranging from September 2017 to February 2019.

The proof of how well early measures work may be known this Thanksgiving if downwind residents who lodged complaints in 2016 do not do so again this Thanksgiving.

Miramar Landfill opened in 1959. The western portion has been in operation since 1983.

Miramar Landfill opened in 1959. The western portion has been in operation since 1983.

The Miramar Landfill opened in 1959 — operating the southern portion until 1973 (14 years), the northern portion from 1973 to 1983 (10 years), and the current western portion, still in operation, opened in 1983 (34 years and counting). The landfill has had substantially more complaints in the past couple years than in the past several decades, said the city.

Complaints that poured into the air pollution control district in 2016 led to a citation against the city for nuisance odors. The citation was settled in July 2016 via the city cutting a $15,000 check to the county.

More complaints followed once the winds changed direction that fall, which led to a May 2017 nuisance abatement hearing.

At the May hearing, the air pollution control district hearing board told the city to come up with a plan to quell odors. Boardmembers stated, after hearing residents speak, it was obvious that something changed three years ago and the city's job was to figure out what that was before the winds changed directions. The city was ordered to appear again in July for a status update and the abatement hearing was continued until August.

The July status update then got moved to August and the abatement hearing was rescheduled for September 7, 2017.

In 2015, the mayor congratulated councilmember Chris Cate on the new pancake lift method meant to help extend the life of the landfill until 2030. Cate will be reviewing the agreement on September 19.

In 2015, the mayor congratulated councilmember Chris Cate on the new pancake lift method meant to help extend the life of the landfill until 2030. Cate will be reviewing the agreement on September 19.

At the August status update, Mario Sierra, director of the city's environmental services department, presented key conditions to be incorporated into a stipulated agreement between the city and county — meant to stave off that abatement-order hearing.

Half of the ten key conditions are landfill-gas-related. One condition assures all future contracts will comply with environmental laws (deadline: January 1, 2019). A proposed two-phase expansion of the landfill gas-collection system would nearly double gas collection by December 31, 2018 — the idea being that more gas moving through the system equals less odors.

Another condition is the possibility of integrating the gas-collection system of an adjacent property into the Miramar system (a report on this is due December 31, 2017 — if moving forward, a filed application is due January 31, 2018).

By December 31, 2018, the city promises to evaluate the integrity of the gas-collection system and advise the county on an action plan by February 28, 2019.

Starting January 2018, Enviro Cover will be used. It's a one-use tarp system that trash is dumped atop the next day.

Starting January 2018, Enviro Cover will be used. It's a one-use tarp system that trash is dumped atop the next day.

Four of the ten measures involve how landfill waste is covered. Beginning this year, from October 15 through May 1, the city will ditch the newer pancake-lift method (which compacts trash in flat horizontal stackable “pancakes”) for the formerly used slope-fill method (which covers trash with dirt on slopes) — the latter reduces the surface area of exposed waste and thus odors. The pancakes will return between May and October.

Beginning September 30, the city will only use recently purchased tarps to cover the landfill. No later than January 31, 2018, a new Enviro Cover System will be used between October 1 and May 1. The city will use dirt with the new tarps.

Enviro Cover is a one-use tarp system applied anew nightly. The next morning, new trash is dumped atop the thin tarps, which are designed to biodegrade easily — though promises to be impermeable for its one time use.

It's proposed by October 1, 2018 to eliminate operation during Sundays and three summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

It's proposed by October 1, 2018 to eliminate operation during Sundays and three summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

One last measure deals with hours of operation. It's proposed by October 1, 2018, to eliminate operation during Sundays and three summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. The landfill is currently closed on New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

The September 7 hearing was attended by 16 people, including three hearing-board members and mainly other city and county representatives.

Paula Forbis, senior deputy counsel with the county, gave a concise review of the city's action plan anticipated to be finalized this week in a stipulated agreement.

The city council will meet behind closed doors about this agreement on September 19. Depending on how that goes, the city will either present the stipulated agreement at the September 21 air pollution control hearing or the original nuisance-abatement hearing, continued from May, will finally be heard.

Forbis said the stipulated agreement would be in effect from adoption to May 1, 2019.

Hearing-board member Nicholas Tonner asked how far along the agreement was. Forbis said it was maybe 98 percent complete, saying they had been hashing it out as late as 3:30 p.m. the day before.

The representative from the city attorney's office, Amanda Guy, said that everything has been worked out except for the November 30, 2017, deadline for the first phase of the gas-collection-system expansion. Guy said the hitch is related to previously unknown issues raised by the contractor within the past few days. A boardmember asked how far off the deadline might veer. Guy said it would probably only be weeks but couldn't say definitively.

Bustos asked why the air pollution control district doesn't have jurisdiction being that it's the same air, the same air pollution.

Bustos asked why the air pollution control district doesn't have jurisdiction being that it's the same air, the same air pollution.

There was only one public speaker, Adrian Bustos, a University City resident who also works in that area. He asked about what was missing from the city's ten proposed measures — the composting operation. In 2016, the city identified the composting operation as a source of odors.

Forbis said the composting operation wasn't included in the action plan because the air pollution control district doesn't have jurisdiction — jurisdiction for composting odors lies with the city's local enforcement agency.

Bustos asked why the air pollution control district isn't involved, being that it's the same air, the same air pollution. Forbis said it's a quirk of state law where composting operations were removed from the jurisdiction of local air quality control districts in California.

Sierra addressed the composting issue by telling Bustos of plans to replace the antiquated open windrows composting system with a covered aerated static pile system that has the ability to capture odors that then go to a filtering system. It's currently in the design phase.

"So I do want to make sure that people understand that though the focus with the [air pollution control district] is focused on odors coming from the landfill operation, the city is focusing on the entire operation," said Sierra.

Local enforcement agency documentation for the last couple years showed no composting violations. Consistent concerns seem focused on the gas-collection system and how trash is covered. Inspections in June and July noted a grading violation and concerns about excessive gas concentrations.

After the hearing, I spoke with Robert Kard, an air pollution control district officer. He clarified that the stipulated agreement won't give the city a pass on making nuisance odors. Complaints could still lead to investigations that lead to violations and citations.

Another air pollution control district employee said they learned a lot from the Sunshine Landfill in Los Angeles that went through a similar situation. The city has borrowed some of their fixes, including the Enviro Cover.

On the way out of the county's administration building, Bustos said that while the city's ten measures sound good, he's concerned they might just be band-aids. He equated it to how the city paves a street like new and then shortly after lets it be dug up and shoddily patched about 20 separate times. Bustos wishes the city would think and plan more long-term. Bustos, originally from Mexico, has been here for more than 25 years and said he has seen San Diego making "the same stupid mistakes that third world countries make."

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Wonder if Bustos knew there was a landfill at Miramar since 1959 and landfills have odors. This is similar to buying a home in Loma Portal and then complaining about airplane noise from Lindbergh Field. Due diligence folks...take responsibility.

Some people have been in the same homes for decades and never experienced the pungent and putrid smells they have the last three years. They smelled stuff every once in a while but nothing this intense. Something changed and all they want is for it to go back to what it was. Landfills are still not allowed to create a nuisance.

It looks like the city and county are working overtime to get it under control. Fingers crossed for everyone that things are better for all this fall.

Gotta believe the major change over time is the landfill, filling up. Being as old as I am I can recall going to the landfill as a child, tagging along with my Dad. We were deep in a canyon surrounded by walls. Now-a-days the landfill has filled those canyons literally to the brim with millions of metric tons of decaying and putrefying waste. There is one thing I am sure of; Human beings create waste. Whether it's solid waste that goes to a landfill (in the West), gets dumped in the ocean( back East) or burned by fire (other countries) it has to go somewhere and someone going to be annoyed or complain.

I'm just wondering if the complainers, who knew the landfill, or the airport, or the whatever they're complaining about would be so vocal if by removing the object of their complaint their life was dramatically altered.

For example, in our city we are all blessed to have indoor plumbing where our bodily waste is eliminated from our homes via a network of unseen pipes and unpretentious pumping stations. Ultimately the human excrement is treated and deposited a few miles off of the Point Loma shoreline, deep in the ocean. But if we did not have this technological wonder of sewage transport and treatment because of complaints by some, who also knew they were contributing to it, what would happen? Simple, we would have considerably more death and disease. We would have open sewers filled with unimaginable filth. Without a doubt we would also have a smaller population. You think the current Hepititus outbreak is terrible now, without the modern sanitary waste collection and disposal methods our culture would not be thriving as it is today.

So for those who moved into an area where they know, or with any sort of intellect and diligence should have known, I say get over it or move.

We all have issues about something we just don't like. For me, I live in close proximity to a local University, nine months a year I deal with no place to park near my home, tons of commuter students, trash, speeding cars, and an overall diminished quality of life. For three months a year I live in one of nicest places on God's blue/green earth where a can walk a 100 yards and see the ocean from bluff and our beautiful coastline. There is good and bad everywhere, and in everything. Find the good, you'll live longer and with more satisfaction.

True, the landfill has been open near 60 years.

The residents complaining aren't suggesting the landfill go away. Not one person I've spoken to that has had issue with the smells has suggested that. They know the landfill has to stay. All they want is for operating practices to go back to what they were before the smells became over-the-top. They know the landfill smells, they aren't expecting it not to smell, they just know that something changed between the time they bought their house and three years ago to make the smells more pungent. Some residents have serious concerns about unknown health-impacts. While some people aren't as sensitive, it's important to pay attention to those people (that are sensitive as those less-sensitive are being equally impacted health-wise.

The city seems to be working on some solutions for the long-term. They have a lot on their plate and I think they have some good ideas to help not only the climate action plan goals but to hinder smells for residents. Fingers crossed.

Before the public spoke, hearing board chair Ruth Rodriguez commended both the city and the county for providing a good example for others to emulate in working together to find a solution.

In my opinion, It would have been better if it had happened in 2016, but it's happening now and that's a good thing.

Why would someone who has concerns about their health and the impact that the landfill may produce continue to live in proximity to it. That just makes no sense at all. That leads to the question why would anyone who, as you've described, is more sensitive to odors and whatever health issues odors cause, buy a home anywhere near a facility like that?

Let's say someone bought their home 25 years ago near the landfill and only started having health issues three years ago they suspect are related to the landfill. Or let's say someone just wants to move for whatever reason. How does that sale go with a house that has putrid and pungent smells for six months out of the year? It didn't when they bought the house. But now that it does, do they just take the loss or ?

Human beings make mistakes all the time, some are small and insignificant, while others are large and have significant impact. Here's my problem with your question. It implies the value or cost of the mistake should absolve them of taking responsibility for their decision. You cannot tell me, nor would I ever believe, any of these people did not know there is or was a landfill in proximity to a home they purchased.

Let's say I was healthy 25 years ago, (I was) but nine years ago I started having issues. It's not my environment, it's called aging and lifestyle.

Actually it is a long list of choices I made along the way. 35 years of a high stress job, but one I loved, contributed it. Genetics too, but being an intelligent person I was aware and chose not to act to combat genetics.

My point is few people take responsibility for their actions and decisions, both of which have consequences. In this case do they take the loss as your question suggest. But a "loss" suggest they would be selling their home for less than they paid for it? Isn't it true, they would be selling for less than what they believe they are ENTITLED to, not less than what they paid. And, THAT is the issue here. They believe if not for the odor from the nearby landfill they would be entitled for a larger profit on their residence. Even though they knew the landfill was there 25 or more years ago.

Decisions have consequences and those who believe they are "entitled", to whatever, are not only confused, they will be the downfall of us all.

Sadly, self reliance, ethical behavior, personal responsibility and work ethic are traits which are, or have disappeared. Without them our future looks less and less promising.

I don't blame my former employer, it was my choice to remain in a job I was passionate about it. I don't blame slow metabolism or the 50 extra pounds I carry around, because I choose to enjoy the food I consume, the company I keep and my reluctance to exercise. They are choices I've made and continue to make.

I fear, not for myself or my generation, but for my grand children. What kind of culture will those who believe they are "entitled" be living in?

Responsibility is a two-way street. People choosing to live near landfills should expect some odors every now and then. Just as operators of a landfill should expect residents to complain if they don't control their odors to a reasonable level. It's a bit unfair to lay this all at the residents feet as it is to lay it all at the city's feet since they can't control which way the wind blows (huge factor in complaints).

I agree, there is a lot of throwing of stones in lieu of trying to understand all sides of a situation. What the city is trying to do to fix this is complicated. But when quality of life is threatened, tensions can run high.

It's hepatitis (not "Hepititus"). ;-)

To clarify, the city has been using tarps, they will use only new tarps starting September 30 (meaning they will no longer use the older ones after September).

UPDATE: Bob Kard, air pollution control district officer, said the hearing board approved the stipulated agreement this morning. "This means the city has agreed to [comply] with the order and do all that is outlined in it. That being said, the [air pollution control district] will monitor the city's compliance with the order and we will also continue to respond to and investigate all odor complaints about the landfill, as it is still not allowed to create odor nuisances. Furthermore, the [air pollution control district] continues to enforce the landfill rules pertaining to landfill gas collection."

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