By Tina Richards
The County of Orange has issued a cease and desist letter to the operators of the construction waste disposal site on Santiago Canyon Road in East Orange because, after years of unregistered activity, the company's belated application for a permit was deemed "incomplete."
In a July 23 letter, the County Local Enforcement Agency (LEA) wrote, “The Registration Permit Application package for a disposal facility at 6145 E. Santiago Canyon Road, was incomplete due to the facility not being identified in the appropriate planning document. We are requesting that you surrender your permit in writing within the next five business days and cease your operation.”
Facility operator Chandler Rio Santiago; landowner Milan Capital; and the City of Orange, the jurisdiction that allowed the activity to continue for years without oversight, have been “caught” by the county and state agency that regulates waste recycling.
After years of unanswered complaints to the city about dust, noise, truck traffic and a growing mountain of who-knows-what, a resident’s complaint to the county was investigated by the OC Environmental Health Division. That governing body acts as the local enforcement agency for CalRecycle, which oversees solid waste management (landfills).
An LEA inspector visited the site in January and again, with a Regional Water Board representative, in February. Chandler Rio Santiago said there was a grading permit with the city, but LEA had not issued any permits and the water board thought the site was inactive. The city grading permit had expired in 2014.
Molehill becomes a mountain
Chandler Rio Santiago has been hauling construction waste to the former Sully-Miller site since 2013, on behalf of Milan Capital. Milan has been working with the City of Orange to put housing on the acreage since 2009. Over the last 11 years, Milan has allowed the once relatively flat, pastoral acreage to become a solid waste disposal site, and the city has looked the other way.
Advised that LEA was prepared to issue a cease and desist order last March, Chandler Rio Santiago agreed to apply for a permit. It hired a consultant to prepare its application, which was rejected in April.
LEA’s rejection letter cited deficiencies in its “siting element conformance,” among other things. The paperwork was corrected to LEA’s satisfaction, and a registration permit for an Inert Debris Type A Disposal Facility (processing) was issued on June 22.
That type of waste facility is considered to be "non disposal," and would have to be listed in the
city's Non Disposal Facility Element, a disclosure filed with the state every year. It wasn't, but
Chandler's consultants assured LEA that it would be.
Neighboring Orange Park Acres appealed the permit. The appeal letter written by Attorney John Edgcomb noted that calling the site an Inert Debris Type A Disposal Facility was incorrect.
Edgcomb provided documents indicating the site was not a "non disposal" facility, but was, in fact, a disposal facility. As such, it would have to appear in the county's waste disposal siting element.
LEA notified Chandler Rio Santiago that "since issuance of the registration permit, LEA has learned that the site has not been identified on the appropriate planning document for County of Orange.
In consultation with Cal-Recycle it was agreed that the site is a disposal facility as opposed to
a processing facility.
"LEA's approval of the application was on the basis that the site was to be identified in the appropriate
facility element." It wasn't, and isn't, and the cease and desist letter was dispatched.
The road not taken
Back when the site was mined for sand and gravel by Hanson Aggregates, Orange could have insisted it comply with Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) guidelines. SMARA, legislated in 1975, is intended to minimize the negative impacts of surface mining on public health and the environment. It requires operators to have reclamation plans outlining how the site will be readied for other uses once the mining ceases. Hanson didn’t follow SMARA, and neither did the city. When pressed, then-city attorney Dave DeBerry ruled that SMARA did not apply, despite records to the contrary.
The city’s willingness to forego SMARA in 2003 to grease the skids for a housing development cost it the opportunity to have the land returned to its natural state, paid for by someone else.
When public opposition to that proposed tract thwarted Hanson’s bid to sell the land to a developer,
the Orange Planning Commission voted to shut down the sand and gravel operation. Hanson appealed to the city council and offered to shut it down itself, in exchange for three more years of
operation. The city council (with Mark Murphy and Mike Alvarez onboard) allowed the activity to
continue as a temporary “nonconforming use,” but did not take the closure deal. There was no follow
Hanson sold the property in 2008, while a six-acre rock and concrete crushing operation continued.
A grading permit was issued in 2012 for “backfilling.” “Backfilling,” DeBerry reported, "can continue until it brings the site to its natural grade, considered to be Santiago Canyon Road.” The permit expired in 2014. The backfilling evolved into construction waste stockpiling and the “natural grade” surpassed by 40 to 50 feet in some places.
Last September, Attorney Edgcomb advised the city that the stockpiling operation on the Sully-Miller site was not authorized under the city’s ordinances, and that the nonconforming use approved in 2003 was not intended to continue indefinitely. Edgcomb’s letter gave the city several valid ways it could shut down the site. The letter asked the city to “immediately schedule a public hearing to consider the issues.”
The city did not respond. Had the city responded in 2003 and accepted Hanson’s offer to shut down, the mess that is now the Sully-Miller site may not have happened at all.Type your paragraph here.