LOS ANGELES (CN) – In a situation reminiscent of the long-running tire fire in “The Simpsons,” a 22 million-pound pile of trash stacked 25 feet high caught fire in September and burned for six weeks before Los Angeles firefighters could put it out. On Wednesday, the city sued the owners of the dumpsite for creating a nuisance and violating more than two dozen city and state laws.
The lawsuit filed by City Attorney Mike Feurer’s office says construction debris removal company Clean Up America ignored warnings and broke promises to clean up the mountain of debris for two years as it grew larger and larger.
The 17-page lawsuit notes that the property, just east of the Los Angeles River, sits between two food-processing plants.
“The conditions at this facility pose a serious danger to this neighborhood and a health and safety risk to the food processing facilities nearby” said Feuer said in a statement. “We will fight to protect the public and ensure important environmental, health and safety rules are followed.”
The city is also suing Clean Up America CEO Michael John Meraz and Merco LLC, which owns the lot where the trash dump is located.
Separately, Feurer’s office charged Clean Up America’s owner, Deontay Potter, with 50 misdemeanors and other municipal code violations related to the situation, according to the statement. Potter is not named as a defendant in the civil suit.
Potter was arrested and freed on bail, according to a newspaper account. His attorney, retired Judge David S. Milton, could not be reached Friday.
A representative of Clean Up America did not respond to a call seeking comment.
According to the lawsuit, Merco leased the land to Clean Up America in March 2012 to use as a waste collection and recycling facility, yet neither company ever obtained the necessary “certificate of occupancy.”
Clean Up America did get a permit in 2014 to operate a medium-volume construction debris processing facility there, to hold no more than 1,401 tons of trash. The piles could be stacked no higher than 12 feet and had to be organized by type with clear lanes between them. Debris had to be processed and removed within 15 days.
By July 2015, the company had exceeded the weight limit. Over the following months, city officials and the local branch of the state recycling department cited it for many violations.
“In defiance of numerous written notices, ‘action plans,’ stipulated agreements, notices, and orders from regulatory agencies to remove the debris, Clean Up America continued to heap more and more refuse onto the pile,” the city claims in its lawsuit.
On Aug. 31 this year, the recycling department finally ordered the company to stop accepting any more debris. Less than three weeks later, the enormous “mountain of refuse” ignited, the lawsuit says.
By that point, the pile of debris filled the lot and was 250 feet wide, 252 feet long and 25 feet high. The fire department could not reach the source of the fire because there were no access lanes. Firefighters were forced to spray water on it from an adjacent property.
Multiple engine companies worked 24 hours per day into November before the fire was finally out.
At one point, the fire department asked Clean Up America to remove some of the debris. The company said it couldn’t because the debris pile had grown “so large and out of control that it completely buried the very machines required to sort the debris,” the lawsuit says.
Instead, the city sanitation department brought in trucks and eventually hauled away 22 million pounds of trash.
Nonetheless, the lawsuit says, “Clean Up America continued to bring construction, demolition and inert debris … onto the site as late as the week of Dec. 19, 2016.”
The city’s lawsuit also notes that Clean Up America did not capture runoff from the firefighting efforts – which was contaminated with high levels of E.coli bacteria – as promised.
Los Angeles seeks civil penalties, reimbursement and court orders shutting down the facility and prohibiting anyone associated with the defendants from ever operating the property as a public nuisance.
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