Soon, Huntington Beach’s Oak View neighborhood will smell better than it has in a long time.
After years of neighborhood complaints and five days of hearings, a Huntington Beach dump was ordered Thursday to fix operational problems that have caused foul odors, dust and pollutants to waft into a nearby grade school and the surrounding community.
The order by South Coast Air Quality Management District’s hearing board forces Rainbow Environmental Services, which operates the 17.6-acre facility on Nichols Lane, to make more than $10 million in improvements.
“This is, in my experience, which goes back half a century, the most comprehensive odor control program,” said Edward Camarena, chairman of AQMD’s five-member quasi-judicial board. “I’m looking forward to its results.”
The order requires the waste station to construct and retrofit buildings so it can conduct all trash-related operations indoors by the end of 2017, divert smelly loads to other dumps in the interim, enhance asbestos monitoring and pay $130,00 in fines.
The company also must check for bad odors daily, spray chemicals to counteract foul smells, send a quarterly newsletter to its neighbors and return before the hearing board in April to provide proof that these changes have solved the problems.
If Rainbow fails to construct and open its enclosures by Dec. 1, 2017, it will pay a $250,000 penalty.
“We needed to provide some relief to the community, and I think (this) will go a long way to providing that relief promptly,” Camarena said.
Rainbow representatives declined comment on the order. But they have said the company has often offered to help find solutions to Oak View’s complaints.
The company is involved in an ongoing lawsuit, in which the Ocean View School District is suing Rainbow and its parent company Republic Services in connection with the dump’s effects on Oak View Elementary school and preschool.
Oak View residents and members of the school community say Rainbow’s operations have emitted bad smells and dust into classrooms and homes, attracted flocks of seagulls that feast at the dump and defecate on children, and caused chronic illnesses, such as asthma. The neighborhood complaints prompted AQMD to issue 13 citations against Rainbow in the last two years for violating California Health and Safety Codes governing air contaminants.
When Rainbow failed to fix the problems and continued to get violations, the AQMD filed a case against the company. The subsequent hearing, which included four days of testimony and deliberation over the past two weeks, was largely a negotiation between the AQMD and Rainbow over what changes and fines would be required.
The hearing board mostly adopted that agreement, and commended Rainbow for its cooperation.
But school district and community representatives said they think the board’s ruling fell short of fully addressing their concerns.
Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president of the Ocean View School District board of trustees, complained that Rainbow will still be allowed to store construction and demolition debris outdoors and uncovered in open-air “bunkers,” even though the order requires construction material dumping and sorting to take place indoors.
“The construction and demolition dumping area is potentially the most dangerous of all the processing areas,” Clayton-Tarvin said. “We’re appreciative of the hard work that AQMD has done, but our difficult journey to save the surrounding community and Oak View is far from over.”
Victor Valladares, 29, who has lived in the Oak View neighborhood all his life, said he has concerns about the construction debris and the mist Rainbow sprays to combat odors – even though the company has said the chemicals are safe.
“Spray Febreze 24 hours a day, and you don’t think that’s going to do any damage to your respiratory?” he said. “My kids have asthma. My neighbors have asthma. I think these chemicals might be contributing to their bad health.”
However, he called the AQMD’s ruling “a step in the right direction.”
“Our voices were finally heard,” Valladares said. “For far too long our community has been living in the shadows.”
Contact the writer: email@example.com or 714-796-7960