Board Declares Emergency Due to Storm Damage in Eastern CV

City News Service

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally declared a local emergency stemming from storm-related impacts at a landfill in eastern Riverside County, where there were initial concerns about pollutants streaming out of the space and into communities, but which recent tests indicate haven’t occurred.

“We did some sampling of local ponds downstream. From early results, it doesn’t appear there’s been any off-site migration (of contaminants) from the former dump site,” county Department of Environmental Health Director Jeff Johnson told the board. “Most of (the rainwater) has receded, and as far as early results go, we don’t believe there’s been a significant loss (of protective barriers).”

The Executive Office requested the emergency proclamation following the issuance of a temporary emergency declaration last week by county officials.

On Sept. 1 and 2, nearly three inches of rain that fell during monsoonal activity across the eastern Coachella Valley caused widespread flooding in parts of Mecca, Oasis and Thermal, including within the Torres- Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Reservation.

County Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton said that the heavy downpours were “particularly cruel” to areas battered a week prior by Tropical Storm Hilary.

“We had infrastructure already damaged, and there was damage to crops,” Barton told the board. “There was significant rainfall on the Lawson Landfill.”

The now-closed dump site near Thermal, which was once designated a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Super Fund Site due to the level of toxic compounds, experienced a breach of what officials described as a protective berm around it.

The Executive Office also said there were concerns about damage to the “entombment covering, creating conditions of dangerous contaminated flows potentially containing dioxins and furans, necessitating the issuance of evacuation warnings to residents of the nearby mobile home parks below the landfill area.”

The Gamez, San Jose and Vargas parks were impacted.

Johnson said that the “dome” appears to be bearing up, without signs of perforations.

It was unclear whether the warnings would remain in place Tuesday.

Rancho Mirage resident Brad Anderson, who said that he has walked the grounds around the landfill numerous times, wondered how an emergency declaration was warranted when “there is no pollution” manifested in the on- site tests.

“We shouldn’t take these (emergencies) lightly,” he told the board. “I don’t want this to be over-used and done for fear-mongering. I’m against this state of emergency.”

The declaration will enable the county to access potential funding assistance and other resources from the California Office of Emergency Services, as well as federal provisions.

“To ensure a seamless response to the impacts of the abandoned landfill, multi-jurisdictional coordination between the county, Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians’ tribal government, the state, federal government and non-profits must take place, to lessen the impacts to the whole community,” according to the Executive Office.

The proclamation specifically asks the governor to “assist in directing state agencies (to) repair and mitigate future breaches” in and around the landfill space.

On Wednesday, access was restored to all roads that had been flooded going into the affected mobile home parks.

Barton noted that monsoon season in the region is not finished, and “other sites could be impacted.”

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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