McColl Truck Plan Facing a Challenge

Times Staff Writer

Santa Barbara County supervisors Thursday authorized their attorney to challenge the state health department's plan to truck excavated McColl dump waste from Fullerton through their county, saying additional environmental study is needed.

Santa Barbara County Counsel Kenneth Nelson said he would seek a temporary restraining order next week to block the cleanup pending further analysis on the impact of the plan, which will route 40 waste-loaded trucks a day onto state and federal highways through Santa Barbara and other communities in the county.

Casmalia to Get Waste

Excavation of the smelly refinery and waste, which lies beneath a vacant field and part of a gold course in a Fullerton residential neighborhood, is scheduled to begin early next month. The cleanup, to be financed primarily with federal funds, will cost from $25 million to $28 million.

The waste is to be disposed of at the Casmalia landfill, located west of Santa Maria and about 200 miles northwest of Fullerton.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Toru Miyoshi charged that the state has focused on the cleanup plan's potential impact on Orange and Los Angeles counties. But he added:

"While the review around the Fullerton area is very comprehensive, there is a lack of studies and research for Santa Barbara County. "We were shortchanged . . . the state has been insensitive to our(sp) concerns."

The supervisors were responding to the action Monday by the State Department of Health Services in Sacramento, which sought to categorically exempt" the McColl cleanup plan from state law that requires environmental impact reports on most government projects and major private developments.

Notices were sent to four counties along the planned McColl route, giving Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties 35 days to "challenge" the exemption by filing a lawsuit, according to Florence Pearson, a health department spokeswoman.

If no lawsuits are filed, then the exemption will stand, she said. If it is challenged, then a court will decide whether the exemption is merited, she added.

Pearson said the exemption states that so many environmental reports and studies have been conducted on the planned cleanup of the World War II refinery acid dump site, no separate environmental impact report is necessary.

Cites Disposal Delay However, Miyoshi said Santa Barbara County is concerned about having trucks travel on Highway 101, which goes through Santa Barbara, and onto a state highway that winds through the community of Los Alamos.

In addition, he said, a recent Federal Environmental Protection Agency decision requiring extra precautions at the Casmalia landfill will delay disposal of the McColl waste for two months.

The state plans to temporarily store the waste at the landfill, while a double-liner container to prevent soil contamination is constructed. But Miyoshi said the environmental impact of temporary storing and then disposing of the waste has not been analyzed.

Miyoshi, who represents the north Santa Barbara County region adjacent to the Casmalia landfill, said he finds it "quite odd" that the cleanup of a major hazardous waste site does not require the preparation of a full-fledged environmental impact report.

"We require EIRs for condo projects," he said. "And none of them have come close to having the potential impact that this (McColl cleanup) would expose our people to."

Santa Barbara County officials recently have sent two letters critical of the McColl transportation plan to the state health department, said Miyoshi's assistant, Linda Olshesky.

The letters have argued that additional analysis is needed on the proposed route, and because of the new EPA precautions required at Casmalia, a different disposal site should be considered, she said.

And once there is a new analysis, Olshesky said, there should be public hearings.

The McColl transportation plan addresses how to avoid the Los Angeles Basin's peak traffic hours, but puts trucks through Santa Barbara during that area's rush hours, Olshesky said.

Health Department spokeswoman Pearson said the state has made an "extensive effort" to communicate with Santa Barbara city and county officials and has encouraged their comments on the plan.

There would be no point in taking the waste to another disposal site because the only other state-licensed landfill in Southern California--located outside Coalinga--would also have to undergo construction to meet the new EPA regulations, Pearson said.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor DeWayne Holmdahl, whose district includes the Casmalia dump, said the recent decision by the BKK Corp. landfill in West Covina to stop accepting toxic waste has increased the truck traffic to Casmalia threefold. The McColl project will further aggravate the traffic problem, he said.

The road through Los Alamos needs improvements, and while the health department has listened to the county's concerns, Holmdahl said, the agency "can't tell Caltrans to widen the road and put in a stop sign and stop the other trucks from speeding."

Pearson said that environmental studies must have been conducted when the Casmalia landfill was constructed. Comparing the landfill to a warehouse, she pointed out that although an environmental report is required before the warehouse is constructed, individual environmental studies are not needed each time a shipment is made.

But Santa Barbara County Counsel Nelson said that the Casmalia landfill was built in 1972, long before the full effects of the California Environmental Quality Act were felt. Besides, he said, the landfill was originally intended to accept only Santa Barbara County's waste.

The impending lawsuit "is not designed to cause a delay" in the McColl cleanup, Nelson said. "It may, but that is not our intent. Our intent is to come out of it with a plan that causes the least harm to our community."

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