A proposed waste-to-energy plant here suffered a major setback this week when the City Council voted 3 to 2 to deny a conditional use permit needed before construction can begin.
However, the council also decided to allow a measure to remain on the ballot in the April 8 municipal election that would ask voters their opinion on whether a plant should be built in Azusa.
"I think it's a dead issue," Councilman Armando Camarena said in an interview.
But project proponents say they will seek a reversal of the council action by taking their case to the voters. "We're going to go to the people," said Bruce Williams, president of Azusa Energy Systems Inc., which has proposed construction of a plant that would burn 2,000 tons of trash a day.
Refusal Called Setback
Williams said the council's refusal to grant a conditional use permit is a setback for the project, but does not necessarily kill it.
Councilman James Cook, who supported the permit, said in an interview that by leaving the measure on the ballot, the council will find out what voters think about waste-to-energy plants and might be persuaded to reverse its position.
Williams said his company has spent $550,000 trying to get the project started. The company must obtain the use permit and a variety of permits from regulatory agencies before construction can begin. None of the permits has been granted.
The task now, Williams said, will be to persuade voters that the waste-to-energy plant is needed and that Azusa would benefit economically from it.
The proposed Azusa plant, which would cost $160 million, would be constructed at the Azusa Land Reclamation landfill on Gladstone Street. It would generate enough electricity for 25,000 homes. Williams said the plant would employ 132 workers and produce yearly revenues of $3.2 million for the city and more than $800,000 for the county.
Williams conceded that the Azusa plant, like any waste-disposal system, would create some air pollution, but he said the amount would not be great enough to harm air quality.
The Azusa plant is one of four waste-to-energy facilities proposed in the San Gabriel Valley. The prospect of increasing pollution in the area has resulted in opposition from cities and several citizens' groups concerned about environmental dangers.
The Planning Commission had voted to approve the use permit for the Azusa plant. That decision was appealed to the council by the Miller Brewing Co., whose lawyers claimed that the environmental impact report on the project was riddled with deficiencies.
Brewery Is Between Sites
Miller owns a large brewery between the proposed Azusa plant site and an Irwindale quarry where Pacfic Waste Management Corp. wants to build a waste-to-energy plant that would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day. Miller is opposed to both waste incineration plants on grounds that they would pollute the air and create other environmental problems.
Mayor Eugene Moses and Councilmen Lucio Cruz and Bruce Latta voted to reject the permit. Supporting the permit were Camarena and Cook. Latta, Camarena and Cook voted to allow voters to voice their opinion on the matter. Moses and Cruz voted to take the measure off the ballot.
Latta said he believes sentiment is strongly against the plant because of the air pollution it would create, but that voters should be allowed to make their feelings known.
Camarena said he thinks it is "kind of stupid" of the council to make a decision on the issue and then ask voters what they think. But he said he regards the election result as a foregone conclusion. Although he personally thinks the project has merit, Camarena said that he does not believe voters will support it.
Cook said he believes that the project may still have a chance because most of the opposition to it has come from outside the city. For example, he said, no residents of Azusa spoke against the project at the council meeting on Monday.
Moses and Cruz could not be reached for comment.