Council majority stands firm on dump

The City Council refused Tuesday to buckle to mounting pressure to adopt a state-favored plan for closure of the Humboldt Road Burn Dump, voting 4-3 against a councilman’s last-minute effort to reverse the city’s direction.

Instead, said Mayor Maureen Kirk, the city will continue to work on a compromise plan that meets state requirements, protects residents from toxic dust and protects the city from future liability. Kirk said the council will probably vote on such a plan next month.

Meanwhile, the four-person council majority faces growing pressure from Councilmembers Larry Wahl, Dan Herbert and Steve Bertagna, from the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board that is threatening the city with fines, and from the local daily newspaper that frequently runs editorials chiding the council for pursuing an alternative closure plan.

“We’ve spent enough time fiddling around with this,” said Councilmember Larry Wahl, who managed late Friday to get the burn-dump issue on Tuesday’s agenda. “There’s the potential for adding another $70,000 to our fines. That’s enough for another policeman for a year.”

The water board has threatened the city with fines for non-compliance with its June order to close the southeast Chico burn dump, but no fines have yet been levied. Assistant City Manager Trish Dunlap said Tuesday that city staffers had advised state officials the council would be hashing out matters related to dump closure in closed session.

The council met for an hour in closed session Tuesday to consider liability and insurance matters prior to convening in public, Mayor Kirk said.

The state wants the city to move ahead on a plan to close the dump by heaping up and capping hazardous waste from almost 80 acres of contaminated land. A citizens’ committee concerned about the effects of toxic dust had proposed an alternative plan that involves a smaller cleanup and more site monitoring.

State officials say that plan doesn’t meet their requirements. But Susan Minasian, who headed the committee, and Mayor Kirk said they were confident that a compromise can be reached.

Kirk and other council members are increasingly concerned that if the city cleans up privately owned land it will be indefinitely vulnerable to lawsuits by parties arguing they were harmed by toxic dust or residue from the closure project. The burn dump includes 15 parcels, most of which are privately owned and some of which are zoned for residential development.

Minasian said two other community members met Friday with the state water board’s executive director in Sacramento. Minasian said the meeting left her hopeful the city can avoid non-compliance fines as community members and officials hash out a solution.

Minasian said much of the pressure on the council comes from the Chico Enterprise-Record and its "high-pressure antics." The four council members who have refused to adopt the state-favored plan until the community is satisfied, she said, have shown "tremendous leadership and strength."