Dump Clean-Up Costs Keep Rising

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By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy

Before the clean-up, and at right after the clean-up.
Before the clean-up, and at right after the clean-up.

The bill for the clean up and restoration of a decades-old dump site in a Laguna Canyon ravine that disgorged broken glass and debris across the Sun Valley neighborhood during flooding in 2010 has climbed to nearly double the initially estimated cost.

It was just October when project manager Bob Burnham told the City Council that remediation and restoration of the site would cost $1 million more than the $2.25 million the city had budgeted as of June.

But this past Tuesday he returned to the Council to report that costs had exceeded estimates by another $950,000, bringing the project’s price tag up to $4.2 million. Of that, $750,000 will be funded by a grant from the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.

Council member Steve Dicterow asked Burnham to explain how his “final” request of less than three months ago could be superseded so quickly with a request for a comparable amount again.

The budget overrun largely stemmed from the labor-intensive removal of buried debris that amounted to 70 percent more than original estimates, Burnham reported. Ultimately, the council authorized the additional funding.

Even now, City Manager John Pietig pointed out that the final costs are still unknown since additional remediation may be required for some Sun Valley properties and regulatory agencies with authority over the area still have the last word on the clean-up. Three regulatory agencies and four resource agencies are involved, Burnham noted.

Before actual work began in October, city staff and consultants anticipated the removal of 7,000 cubic yards of waste, but 12,000 cubic yards had been excavated by the time they finished, he said, and the trucks hauled away the last of it this past Monday, Jan. 5. Gauging the depth of the debris on the site was constrained by topography, regulatory restrictions, and temporary shoring in the channel to prevent debris flows.

Though the city approved the remediation project two years ago, it wasn’t until a few months ago that all of the permits were in place. “It took a substantial amount of time and money to get permission to do what the regulatory agencies told us we had to do,” said Burnham.

They couldn’t assess the depth of debris until they had permits to remove the vegetation in some areas and until they removed the concrete shoring in others. Only as the clean-up crews worked did the extent of the waste become clear, said Burnham

With more waste to eradicate, fees for digging, trucking and disposal escalated. Truck shortages and difficult terrain also lowered daily production rates and pushed up costs. A steep-sided and almost inaccessible ravine forced workers to use shovels and five-gallon buckets to remove waste by hand, according to the staff report.

They have now removed all waste from the project area and three neighboring residential properties, and most debris from home sites further to the south, where more work may yet be required, said Burnham.

Moving forward to the restoration plan, Pietig noted that staff is in the process of working out a “win-win” arrangement with the Laguna Canyon Foundation, that would grant the foundation a long-term lease for the old Dewitt house near the site in return for their oversight of the habitat restoration of the now denuded ravine.

The arrangement would save the city money and provide the foundation with a building that, once renovated, would house their staff and serve as a base for their education and restoration programs, according to the staff report.

Foundation president Derek Ostensen gave city officials, staff and Burnham “enormous credit for taking this on in the way that you did and doing it right.” He called the extremely deep ravine a “pretty remarkable site” that was once filled up with trash and “is now a blank canvas to be restored back to its ecological value in a way we can all be proud of.”


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