With the pollution hazards caused by the BKK landfill still fresh in his mind, Mayor Forest Tennant has launched a campaign to prevent what he claims would be another environmental disaster in the San Gabriel Valley.
Citing a potential air pollution threat from the proposed trash-to-energy plant in Irwindale, Tennant mailed letters to 27 San Gabriel Valley mayors Monday, asking them to join him in opposing the project.
The plant, which would burn 3,000 tons of trash daily, would generate enough electricity to serve 40,000 homes. The operators of the plant, Newport Beach-based Pacific Waste Management Corp., plan to negotiate trash collection contracts with surrounding cities to assure a steady stream of fuel. The letter was also sent to seven cities outside the San Gabriel Valley that may contract for the Irwindale plant's services.
Tennant's letter asks the mayors to persuade their city councils to boycott the project by refusing to negotiate contracts with the operators. Miller Brewing Co., whose Irwindale plant is near the project site at Irwindale Avenue and the Foothill Freeway, has previously expressed concerns over potential threats to ground water, air quality and public health.
"What amazed me about this plan," Tennant wrote, "is that anyone would propose a facility like this for the already smog-filled San Gabriel Valley. This area has had more first-stage smog alerts during the last five years than any other region in Los Angeles County."
Officials of Pacific Waste Management were reported to be out of the country and unavailable for comment, but engineers have said the plant can meet air quality requirements by installing pollution control equipment and purchasing offsetting pollution credits from other companies. The credit system allows construction of a plant that emits pollutants if the owner offsets the increase by paying for devices to reduce pollution at other plants.
Of 10 mayors and city officials contacted by The Times, half said they were not prepared to take a stand for or against the project. Mayors and city officials from three cities expressed support for the project, while two other mayors said they oppose it.
Mayors Eugene Moses of Azusa and Charles Colver of Covina said they are inclined to oppose the project because it would increase air pollution. Both those cities have rejected offers to sign a 30-year trash disposal agreement with Pacific Waste Management.
The Duarte City Council supports the trash-to-energy concept as long as air pollution and traffic problems at the Irwindale site can be solved, said Councilman Carlyle Falkenborg.
Temple City Manager Karl Koski, who said his city is discussing an agreement with Pacific Waste Management, said the waste-to-energy concept "is a good idea, assuming it can meet air quality standards."
Irwindale Mayor Pat Miranda, whose city is the proposed site of the project, said that the incineration is a realistic alternative to disposal of refuse in landfills which are proven environmental hazards that are quickly reaching capacity. An agency of the City of Irwindale has sold $395 million worth of bonds to finance the project.
A project spokesman said the plant would release about six tons of air pollutants per day. Documents filed with regulatory agencies by Pacific Waste Management Corp. note that emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants will exceed permitted levels.
However, the overall effect on air quality will be minimal because of mitigating measures available to the operators, said Joseph W. Schilli, assistant vice president of HDR Techserv, which has been hired by Pacific Waste Management to oversee the project.
Schilli said the efficiency of the plant has been increased by providing four incinerating units instead of the three originally planned. He said opposition will decrease once the mitigating measures and technology available for the project are better understood by the public.
But Tennant dismissed the assurances made by plant operators. He said the seven landfills already located in the San Gabriel Valley have turned the area into the county's prime dumping ground.
Tennant, who said he does not oppose refuse-to-energy plants in principle, said that West Covina residents have learned a lesson from the evacuations caused by toxic gas emissions from the BKK landfill. Because the San Gabriel Mountains are a natural barrier that traps air pollutants, he said, trash-to-energy plants are not a viable alternative here, adding that there are several locations on the northern end of the county suited for such projects.
For this reason, he said, he opposes waste-to-energy projects proposed for the Spadra landfill in Pomona and the Puente Hills landfill near Hacienda Heights. Both facilities are operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.
Applications are pending before the City of Pomona and the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission for conditional use permits to build a 1,000-ton-a-day facility at the Spadra landfill and an environmental impact report is being redrafted on plans to build a waste-to-energy facility at the Puente Hills landfill that would burn as much as 10,000 tons day.
Covina's Mayor Colver said he agrees with Tennant's opposition to the Irwindale project, but for another reason.
Colver, who is also manager of the U.S. Forest Service's experimental forest in San Dimas, said that preliminary research there indicates that air pollution may affect ground water quality. Besides contributing to acid rain, he said, air pollution deposited on the mountain watershed is also washed by rain into underground aquifers.
"Our facility is downwind from the proposed project, so we would get full benefit of the air pollution into the mountain watershed," he said. "But trash is a form of pollution too. So I don't know what the answer is."