Trash: Valley's Burning Issue : 7 Cities Oppose Waste-to-Energy Plant in Irwindale

Times Staff Writer

Seven San Gabriel Valley cities have voted to oppose Irwindale's proposed waste-to-energy project in what has become a growing wave of opposition to trash-burning facilities anywhere in the area.

Another waste-to-energy project, planned for the Puente Hills landfill near Hacienda Heights, also came under attack last week as a boisterous crowd of about 250 residents gathered to denounce an environmental impact report presented by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.

The report, which concluded that the plant would pose no serious health threats, was ridiculed by many members of the audience.

"We're the 'Valley of the Dumps,' " Jim Stagner, president of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn., said in an interview after making a formal presention. "More and more, this is being seen not as a local issue but as a valleywide issue. That can only help."

Councils Go on Record

City councils in Azusa, Glendora, Monrovia, Bradbury, Duarte and Claremont have all voted in the last two weeks to oppose the Irwindale project, which would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day and generate enough electricity to serve about 40,000 homes.

The La Verne City Council also objected to the project, but went further in opposing any trash-burning facilities to be built in the valley.

The resolution, approved last week, states that the council opposes "the development within the San Gabriel Valley of trash-incinerator plants that would create more air pollution, toxic waste or any other negative impact upon its citizens."

Although some of the cities acted in response to a letter sent by West Covina Mayor Forest Tennant urging 27 area mayors to oppose the Irwindale project, the West Covina City Council has yet to take a stand.

Full-page advertisements in the form of an open letter by Tennant have appeared in the Pasadena Star-News and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune condemning the Irwindale project.

Pacific Waste Management Corp., a Newport Beach-based company proposing to build the plant, has maintained that the Irwindale project can meet all air-quality regulations.

In addition, the company announced last week that it intends to modify its existing technology by adding an electron beam, or "E-Beam," system aimed at significantly lowering plant emissions.

"We have long recognized the unique emission problems in the San Gabriel Valley and have committed ourselves to providing the finest and most modern solutions possible," Lawrence Peck, president of the company, said in a press release.

Presentation Interrupts

Meanwhile, a noisy crowd of area residents frequently interrupted a presentation on the proposed Puente Hills waste-to-energy project with jeers and complaints.

The facility, which would burn 10,000 tons of trash a day and generate enough electricity to serve 500,000 homes, would be the largest waste-to-energy project in the world.

Many of the residents, who attended a similar hearing a year ago, held signs reading, "Keep Your Ash Out of the San Gabriel Valley" or "Dump the Dump." Several people wore surgical masks around their necks.

"As it is, we're already bombarded by dust and other filthy things in the air," James Garcia, a resident of unincorporated Avocado Heights for 15 years, said in an interview during the hearing. "They have a lot of desert where they can dump the garbage. So we pay more. Who cares?"

Sandy Johnson, a Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn. board member, said many of the homes in her community were built before the sanitation districts bought the Puente Hills site.

"We must get the dump out of this residential area," Johnson told the crowd. "We were here first."

Ida Honoroff, a Lynwood resident and host of a consumer radio program, echoed the sentiments of many in the crowd by saying that the San Gabriel Valley is being asked unfairly to bear the burden of Los Angeles County's trash. The valley currently handles 55% of all trash in the county.

Contaminant 'Free-for-All'

"Your dump has been a free-for-all for every kind of contaminant," said Honoroff, noting that contaminated watermelons and Jalisco cheese have been buried there. "Today the situation is so horrendous--especially in this area--that we're known all over the country as 'Smogsville.' "

One member of the audience did support the proposed facility.

"I must be in the absolute minority here, but I really think that it's the best alternative to the landfill," Robert Arneson, a West Covina resident for 31 years, said while he listened to the hearing. "If we can go to the moon, we certainly can perfect a trash-to-energy plant with no harmful emissions."

According to John Gulledge, head of engineering for the solid-waste department of the sanitation districts, the Puente Hills project would produce no visible plume from its 250- to 450-foot smokestack, would have no significant air-quality impact, and would meet all federal and state air-quality regulations.

"This has been a lively debate, to say the least," Gulledge said after addressing the crowd. "A lot is emotional, but they certainly have a valid complaint if they don't think we've met all their concerns."

Besides the Irwindale and Puente Hills projects, two other trash-burning facilities have been proposed.

An Azusa project that would burn 2,000 tons of trash a day has not been formally approved, although the city's council voted last week to oppose the Irwindale plant.

"Irwindale's project will add pollution," Mayor Eugene Moses said. "We already have a dump. They're adding to the problem and we're not."

Approved Pomona Project

A Pomona project, which would burn 1,000 tons a day at the Spadra landfill, was approved last week by the Pomona City Council.

City Administrator Ora Lampman credited the relative lack of opposition to the Pomona project to residents there handling the issue more rationally than people in other communities.

"They have an advocacy group (in Hacienda Heights) taking a stance that all these terrible things are going to happen," Lampman said, referring to opposition of the Puente Hills project. "(Pomona residents) have not been bombarded by emotional statements from people who don't have the facts to back up the statements they make."

However, La Verne Councilman Craig Walters said he was concerned about a lack of facts regarding the Spadra project in Pomona.

"This isn't just a single community issue," Walters said. "It's a valleywide issue. . . . I was a bit shocked that they took that action without any real solid data indicating that it's safe."

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