Laguna Fortifies Newly Found Dump

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Silk artist Olivia Batchelder in the ravine that channeled floodwaters laden with broken glass into Sun Valley Drive houses, including hers, last December. A more substantial replacement to sand bags was approved this week to protect the neighborhood.

The glass-filled slurry that besieged a Laguna Canyon neighborhood during last year’s record-breaking flood surprised residents when they stepped out into the light of day and onto the unusual muddy mixture.

As the first storm of the rainy season came ashore Tuesday, the City Council approved an urgent $150,000 clean-up effort to fortify the hillside where a dumpsite still full of old glass and household ceramic pieces could again wash into the Sun Valley neighborhood.

The city has already hired six consultants and spent upwards of $70,000 to assess the soil, trash contents and perimeters of the long-abandoned and buried dumpsite for toxins, environmental threats and hillside instability and has excavated debris that flowed across residents’ property. The proposal calls for erecting a “check dam” of boulders, reinforcing material and fabric upstream in a ravine to slow the velocity of runoff, according to a staff report.

The much ado about the debris, said City Manager John Pietig, is to assuage Sun Valley residents’ concerns.  “Nobody knew what the nature of the burn dump was,” said Pietig.  “We could assume what was in it, but that wasn’t very comforting for the neighbors of Sun Valley.  We didn’t know how big the dumpsite was, what was in it and what other issues we might have.  There were no records of it when the city acquired the property.”

Last December’s cloudburst and resulting record-breaking flood unearthed the sundry collection of glass and ceramic pieces dating back to the 1940s that was buried in the hillsides upstream in Laguna Canyon.

The city surmised that the land there, now known as a burn dump, was once used by a farmer, who purportedly collected household food trimmings and trash from neighbors, fed the organic material to his farm animals, then burned the inedible refuse and buried non-combustibles such as the glass and pottery. The city acquired the 190-acre area with state parkland conservation funds in 1990 at about the same time that Laguna Canyon was incorporated into Laguna Beach.

Without fortressing the dumpsite, even moderate rainfall could cause more of the mixture to flow into the Sun Valley neighborhood and Laguna Creek, which, according to the city’s report, constitutes a public nuisance and environmental threat.

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