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Clover Flat landfill

Erosion from stormwater and leachate overflow at Clover Flat landfill as documented in a San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board inspection report.

Local elected officials on Friday decided Clover Flat Landfill operators have breached their contract because of repeated alleged violations since August, ranging from failure to provide proper firefighting capabilities to leakage of contaminated water into a creek.

The Upper Valley Waste Management Agency Board of Directors oversees the franchise agreement for the landfill in the mountains east of Calistoga. It announced its decision after a closed session during an afternoon meeting at Yountville Town Hall.

“This is the first step of a process that would allow for the revocation of the contract,” agency Manager Steven Lederer said after the meeting. “But the contract allows them to cure the breaches before that happens.”

Directors present were Yountville Town Councilwoman and agency Chair Margie Mohler, Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning, St. Helena City Councilmember Mary Koberstein and Napa County Supervisors Diane Dillon and Alfredo Pedroza.

“We strongly encourage the company to continue to focus their efforts on meeting the regulatory requirements of all the agencies involved,” Mohler said.

The operators face further actions because of the most recent alleged problem, the runoff of contaminated water into a creek that ultimately runs to the Napa River. The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board could issue fines. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking into the matter and could work with the county District Attorney’s Office to seek penalties.

In addition, Napa County’s Planning, Building and Environmental Services department is the Local Enforcement Agency overseeing the landfill on behalf of the state. It has the power to issue fines or seek revocation of the operating permit.

County officials said no landfill water as of Thursday was running into the creek, though they said more leakage might occur with more rain.

The landfill at 4380 Silverado Trail is owned and run by the California corporation Clover Flat Landfill. It is where curbside trash is hauled from Calistoga, Yountville and St. Helena — but not Napa or American Canyon —and local officials don’t want weekly collection service interrupted.

Bryce Howard, general manager of the landfill, during a meeting break depicted problems as being due to a convergence of factors. Among them was accepting 160,000 tons of fire debris following the October 2017 wildfires on top of the usual 35,000 tons; the loss of a full-time onsite manager; a wet winter; and the loss of a market for urban wood such as sawed lumber and pruned branches.

The county in a notice to the landfill said the loss of a full-time site manager about a year ago is the direct reason for the landfill’s string of alleged problems. Howard said the company has tried to fill the position.

“We’ve interviewed a number of candidates,” Howard said. “It got down to housing costs.”

Howard recently stepped in to serve as interim site manager.

The county’s Planning, Building and Environmental Services department has issued a series of violation notices for Clover Flat over the past year. A March 29 notice sums them up.

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On Aug. 8, 2018, the county issued a violation notice saying the landfill had failed to provide adequate water and other resources for firefighters to fight an Aug. 6 fire there. Operators had used processed green waste as a landfill cover, which contributed to rapid fire spread. The landfill’s facility manager position had been vacant for six months.

On Jan. 29, county inspectors noticed drainage and erosion issues near the active face of the landfill.

A Feb. 13 follow-up inspection showed “little or no progress had been made” to solve the problems, the county notice said. The slope near the active landfill face continued to erode and a significant amount of storm water was running through the exposed landfill into storm water drainage channels.

The inspector saw large areas of exposed trash near the active face of the landfill, the county notice said.

“When questioned, the operator was unsure how to address the issue due to recent rains and saturated conditions,” the notice said.

The operator didn’t have enough approved tarps to cover exposed trash. As a temporary measure, the operator used plastic tarps from its county compost facility, the notice said.

On March 26, the county and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board inspected the landfill. The Water Board inspector described “black oily-looking water” running from the landfill into a creek. In addition, tanks for contaminated water from the landfill had no secondary containment and “clearly have a history of repeated overflows.”

The landfill still didn’t have enough tarps to cover trash, continued to use processed green waste as an intermediate cover and still hadn’t installed all of the needed fire protection infrastructure, the county notice said.

Another inspection on March 28 found contaminated storm water running into a creek. Because the operator failed to immediately divert the water as previously instructed, the violation persisted and had been exacerbated, the notice said.

“The site operator has failed to make any meaningful progress in addressing the violations since prior inspections, further indicating the operator’s insufficient number of qualified personnel on hand or readily available to address the serious violations that have been and continue to occur,” the county notice said.

On March 29, the county ordered Clover Flat Landfill to be closed to members of the public bringing trash. Commercial haulers can still use the site. The operators were forbidden from spreading green waste or wood chips anywhere at the landfill for any purpose.

The operator was to address the leakage problem and hire a permanent facility manager or designate an interim manager by April 2. It must submit a long-term plan to prevent erosion and manage storm water within 15 days of receiving the notice. It must provide adequate water to fight fires and take other fire protection steps within 30 days.

Howard said some of the alleged violations as described in the county’s notice are accurate and some probably aren’t. His focus during Friday’s meeting was on making changes at the landfill to deal with the issues.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.