Neighbors of Proposed Site Protest at Hearing : Decision on SOS Waste Burn Must Wait

Times Staff Writer

A state hearing board took four hours of testimony Wednesday but recessed without ruling on a request by Space Ordnance Systems for permission to destroy about 50 tons of explosive waste in the desert.

Coralie Kupfer, who chairs the five-member air quality panel, said the hearing will resume March 27, when aerial photographs should be available to help resolve a dispute over the proximity of homes to the proposed burn site in northeastern Los Angeles County.

For nearly a year, Space Ordnance, a subsidiary of TransTechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, has been under orders from state and county authorities to dispose of more than 1,500 drums of explosive wastes.

The material, which is accumulating at a rate of about one drum per day, is being stored without a permit at the company's Mint Canyon plant near Agua Dulce and Sand Canyon plant near Canyon Country.

Site Near Lancaster

Space Ordnance, or SOS, is seeking approval from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to burn the wastes at a leased site 25 miles east of Lancaster. The company says it has been unable to persuade the military to take the wastes or to find a commercial disposal site. Wednesday's session was the second day of the hearing.

The hearing board's ruling could affect an upcoming decision by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, which is considering revocation of SOS' zoning permits because of its waste disposal problems. The commission may rule in the revocation case next month.

SOS says it would need to conduct about four burns per day for 75 days to destroy the waste. The firm says the burning would be done only under favorable weather conditions and would have minimal effect on air quality.

But the plan has provoked fierce opposition from Antelope Valley residents, including those living in the desert communities of Hi Vista and El Mirage near the burn site. About 30 residents of the area made the 75-mile trip to air district headquarters in El Monte Wednesday to register their opposition.

Neighbors Complain

George Ell, who lives about two miles from the proposed burn site, said SOS had polluted the area around its Santa Clarita Valley plant and alienated its neighbors there. SOS "has not demonstrated that they are a company that can be trusted," he said.

Several opponents said they want to protect the desert's clean air. One of them, Jasmine Boyd, said she has asthma and bronchitis.

"My lungs are damaged. I am sick for life," she said.

Speaking in favor of the company's request were representatives of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Clarita Valley Hazardous Waste Task Force. They said the stockpiled wastes pose a threat to their area.

The request has been endorsed by the state and county health departments on the grounds that the explosion hazard is far greater than the air-pollution risk. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has said it probably will issue SOS the emergency federal permits needed for the burn.

The air district's staff has opposed the request, partly on grounds that the military should take responsibility for waste produced to fulfill military contracts and partly on legal grounds. Air district lawyers have said an open burning variance can be granted only to solve a problem beyond an applicant's control, a condition they say does not exist in this case.

Alternative Available

For its part, the Defense Department, which accepted SOS wastes until 1980, said it could do so now only if the contractor had no other alternative.

But, in a letter submitted as evidence Wednesday, Carl J. Schafer Jr., director of environmental policy for the Defense Department, said the desert site "offers an available and feasible means for disposal. Therefore, we are . . . prohibited by law from allowing the use of federal facilities for such purposes."

Under questioning from the hearing board, Alan E. Opel, director of engineering services for SOS, said he did not believe the military would relent and take the wastes if the burning variance were denied.

SOS manufactures decoy flares for military aircraft, pilot ejection systems and components for missiles and the space shuttle.

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