Federal authorities on Wednesday ordered the immediate closure of Sun Valley Recycling Center in Thermal, where a mulch fire that started Monday has been spewing plumes of smoke into the air near homes and schools.
The dump site, which sits on tribal land of the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, has seen a number of recurring fires, attracting the attention of federal authorities after students at Desert Mirage High School mounted a campaign calling attention to the adverse effects of the smoke.
Students have had to contend with smoky air that has forced them inside and prompted after-school activities to be cancelled. Still, the smoke is so thick they can smell it inside their classrooms.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, who in May toured the burned areas of the dump site from a previous fire, had ordered an investigation into the frequent mulch fires. Last month, he convened an interagency meeting with officials from the Torres Martinez tribe, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Cal Fire, among others. Ruiz highlighted the activism of students, who this week mounted a letter-writing campaign to officials, including their school board members.
”It’s past time the public health hazard posed by the facility is shut down for good,” Ruiz said. “I want to commend the students at Desert Mirage High School, whose stories and advocacy played a pivotal role in ensuring students’ health is no longer put at risk.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Wednesday issued a cease and desist order to permanently shutter the facility. If the owner does not comply, the BIA will seek an injunction and pursue compensation for all enforcement costs and damages, according to a news release from Ruiz’s office.
Sun Valley Recycling is on the same plots of land as “Mt. San Diego” the infamous dump site that was closed in 1994 after years of enforcement efforts by the federal government.
More: Two fires on Torres-Martinez reservation burn nearly 100 acres of vegetation, debris
More: Rep. Ruiz calls for investigation into fires that officials say are making kids in Thermal sick
Ricardo Lopez covers the eastern Coachella Valley cities of Indio and Coachella. Reach him at Ricardo.Lopez@DesertSun.com or 760-778-4637.
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