Dump Clean-Up Costs Soar

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By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy

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.
Silk artist Olivia Batchelder in the ravine that channeled floodwaters laden with broken glass into Sun Valley Drive houses, including her own.  

 

The clean-up of a decades-old dump site for broken glass and debris in a Laguna Canyon ravine should be completed by Nov. 15, but the City Council learned Tuesday that the cost of remediation and restoration is $1 million more than the $2.25 million budgeted.

The Council approved borrowing $1 million internally by reducing previously approved capital improvements on three other projects.

City Manager John Pietig said he is optimistic at the next mid-year budget review the funds for the postponed projects will be restored.

In the meantime, the council’s action will allow the hillside above the Sun Valley neighborhood to be rejuvenated to its natural glory by mid-December, weather permitting, said the project manager Bob Burnham.

Burnham said another $450,000 is required to complete the process of removing waste that has been termed “hazardous” under California law. In addition, he asked Council to approve a restoration budget of $550,000, bringing the project’s total cost to $3.25 million.

When the city first decided to move forward with the project in January 2012, 13 months after the dump site disgorged its contents on the properties below it during a flood, Pietig quoted a $1 million estimate just to clear the site, with the caveat that unknowns could up the ante.

In May, when the City Council signed off on the final environmental impact report for the project, the budget for remediating the site had reached $2.05 million, with $1.3 million sourced from the city’s general fund and the remaining $750,000 acquired through a CalRecycle grant. When the city budget was revised in June, the Council also okayed an additional $200,000 injection, bringing the total to $2.25 million.

The project has been “a challenge,” in terms of obtaining permit approvals and accurately estimating the amount of waste involved, the staff report says. Extracting the waste and transporting it to Yuma, Ariz., began on Oct. 13.

Burnham attributed the cost overruns to an expansion of the cleanup dictated by the regional board and various permits.

Indicating the project’s complexity, in 2012, the ravine’s floor and walls were fortified with concrete to temporarily protect the neighborhood from errant debris until the waste could be removed. This summer, prior to the waste removal, the fortification had to be removed.

Another complication came in the form of a temporary water line that had to be installed, lest the heavy trucks rupture the existing water line running under their access route. “It cost a lot of money, but it was necessary,” said Burnham.

A bit less than half of the $550,000 restoration budget will pay to restore a drainage course. Other items include temporary irrigations systems to support the new vegetation for three years, installation of natural rock elements, and, of course, the inevitable permits.

“This site, when we have completed the restoration, will be something of a showpiece in that area,” said Burnham, who described “a beautiful sandstone amphitheater” surrounded by some vegetation. “We sincerely hope that this is the last time the Council is presented with this.”

The lesson learned from previous disasters is that sometimes “we have to delay other projects when we have a disaster,” said Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, addressing the need to temporarily borrow funds from budgeted capital improvements. She lauded Burnham, who also oversaw rebuilding after the Bluebird Canyon landslide of 2005.

Council member Steve Dicterow asked how certain staff could be that this new cash infusion would finally be enough. Admitting that this was the third time revising the budget, and that the true extent of the restoration is still unknown, Pietig said they have 80 to 90 percent confidence in the numbers.

As Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said, “We have no choice,” but to approve the funding since the city is responsible for the site.

“It may seem like four years is a long time to remediate a burn site,” said Burnham, “but it’s really quite quick.”

 

 

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