Angered that the same state agency that forced the city to stop dumping its raw sewage into the ocean authorized the dumping of toxic chemical wastes into the waters off its shores, the City Council has voted to ask the state for permission to dismantle its sewage treatment plant.
"They are not playing by their own rules," said an angry Mayor Gilbert Saldana of the state Water Quality Control Board. "They knew early in the 1970s that it was wrong, and it was not until the mid-1970s that they stopped it. They're being two-faced."
City officials here are still upset over news reports last week that the state Water Quality Control Board had allowed the dumping of toxic wastes into the ocean about 20 miles north of Santa Catalina Island's west end as late as the mid-1970s.
It was the Water Quality Control Board that in the mid-1960s ordered this city of 2,000 to construct a sewage treatment plant. The city had been dumping its raw sewage about a quarter-mile offshore.
Council members said they were further aggravated because the board notified the city in January that it was violating state law because its treatment plant is inadequate for the amount of sewage the city is producing. The city's daily outflow has ranged between 300,000 and 800,000 gallons. The plant can handle only 500,000 gallons a day, and when there is an overload of raw sewage it tends to back up into the lines and into the ocean.
The city has been given until April 15 to come up with a compliance plan. City and Water Quality Control Board officials for the Los Angeles region will meet next week. The agenda will probably include the city's request to resume its sewage dumping.
"Here is a state agency working in conjunction with the EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency) telling us we have to stop contaminating the water with sewage, yet they allowed dumping of toxic waste," Saldana said. "They're polluting worse than us.
"The sewer discharge has had no effect in or around Catalina. We had a study done to prove that. But they failed to recognize it. They made us do it because they were making everyone else do it."
"We were just dumping basic biological wastes," said Councilman W. F. (Oley) Olsen. "It's the pollution dumped into the ocean that is harming the environment. We don't have any heavy industry here.
Dave Gildersleeve, an engineer with the Water Quality Control Board in Los Angeles, said he could not comment on the city's request to stop using its plant because he had not seen such a request.
"But I guess we may be discussing it next week," Gildersleeve said of his scheduled meeting with City Manager John Longley.
The city's sewage treatment plant for more than a year has regularly reached an outflow of 750,000 gallons, particularly during the summer tourist season. The city has applied for a federal grant to expand the plant, and for a waiver from the EPA to eliminate secondary treatment of the effluent. By not having to treat the sewage a second time, Avalon's existing plant could increase its flow from 500,000 gallons to about 800,000 gallons. Residents pay about $170 a year per household to keep the treatment plant running.
Breaks in Lines
City officials said the plant has begun to deteriorate because of exposure to the salt water and air. There have been breaks in the sewer lines, and occasional blockage in the lines has caused raw sewage to pour out into the street drains and into the ocean. The beach was closed over the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends in 1983 because of the seepage of raw sewage.
Last month, the city received a $99,500 federal grant to repair a line through which the sewage is pumped up into the treatment plant.
Saldana said the city is serious in its request to dismantle the treatment plant.
"We'll take it as far as we can go," he said. "We're busting our buns to make it work and all along they've done more damage than we could ever do."