Duarte Fumes Over Burning : Equestrian Park Pushed to Block Waste Project

Times Staff Writer

This city has enlisted the help of Rep. David Dreier (R-Covina) to try to block construction of a hazardous-waste incinerator in Irwindale by reserving the site for recreation, but has failed to persuade Supervisor Pete Schabarum to join the battle.

Dreier met last week in Washington with Col. Dennis Fred Butler, district engineer in charge of the Los Angeles office of the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the property. Dreier said he is enthusiastic about Duarte's proposal to develop the property for equestrian use, and said Butler seemed enthusiastic, too, but made no commitment.

Dreier has sided with Duarte in a dispute with Irwindale over the site. Irwindale is backing a proposal by Omega Chemical Corp. of Whittier to acquire the property to build a $10-million incinerator for hazardous waste. To block that use, the Duarte City Council, which contends that waste incineration plants damage air quality, has offered to lease the land for development of an equestrian center.

County Seeks More Revenue

The property currently is leased to Los Angeles County for recreational use, but has not been developed. Tom Hibbard, a deputy to Supervisor Schabarum, said county recreation officials have been negotiating with Irwindale to give up the county's interest in exchange for a share of revenue from commercial development of the property. Hibbard said the revenue would go to county recreation programs.

Hibbard compared the proposed arrangement to that under which the Raging Waters amusement attraction at Frank G. Bonelli Regional County Park in San Dimas was developed. Raging Waters, a privately operated water park on county land, produces $350,000 to $400,000 a year to help pay expenses at Bonelli Park, he said.

Hibbard said Schabarum supports the concept of using private enterprise to bolster county revenue. But at the same time, the supervisor has said he will oppose waste incineration projects that increase air pollution. Hibbard said Schabarum will wait for the county Parks and Recreation Department's recommendation before offering his own opinion on the best use of the property.

Duarte city officials will state their case at a meeting with top officials of the Corps of Engineers and the county Parks and Recreation Department on April 2 at the Federal Building in Los Angeles.

Duarte is inviting neighboring cities to join in supporting the equestrian center development. A Duarte spokesman said the city is asking Azusa, Arcadia, Bradbury, Monrovia and West Covina to join in the project because it would serve a regional need.

Site Borders Azusa

The 12-acre site lies north of Foothill Boulevard near the San Gabriel River and east of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. The site borders Azusa and is within a quarter-mile of Duarte.

Irwindale is promoting two waste incineration projects. Most public attention has focused on Pacific Waste Management Corp.'s proposal to build a plant to burn 3,000 tons of trash a day in a quarry at Irwindale Avenue and the Foothill Freeway. The city has sold $395 million in bonds for the project, which is before the state Energy Commission. It faces strong opposition from several cities, including Duarte, Azusa, Monrovia and West Covina, and from civic organizations.

The hazardous waste incineration plant proposed by Omega Chemical Corp. would be much smaller, burning about 50 tons of waste a day. The waste would include paint, paint sludge, chlorinated solvents, thinners, oil wastes and other solids, sludges and liquids.

Dennis O'Meara, Omega general manager, said the company cannot file for permits from regulatory agencies to build the plant until it obtains a site. He said the plant would have to meet stringent standards in order to be licensed.

"The difficulty is that everyone says they don't want it in their own backyard," he said.

The Corps of Engineers leased the property to Los Angeles County in 1975 for a nominal fee as part of the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area. After a review of the property and its potential uses was requested by Irwindale last year, county recreation officials concluded that the county will not need it for recreational purposes.

Curt Robertson, an administrative assistant with the Parks and Recreation Department, said the property is isolated from the rest of the recreation area. On the west side of the railroad tracks, he said, the county has restrooms and a parking lot for those who use riding trails nearby, and has leased land to Los Amigos de Los Charros for construction of an arena for Mexican-style rodeos. But there is no way to link the equestrian development west of the railroad tracks to the 12 acres on the east side, he said.

Sale Is 'Highly Unlikely'

Lewis W. Trout, realty specialist with the Corps of Engineers, said that Congress has directed the corps to give priority in leasing land to flood control and recreational uses. The county could not sublease the property without corps approval. Trout said idle federal land can be declared excess and sold through the General Services Administration. But, he said, it would be "highly unusual" for the Corps of Engineers to declare land excess if it could be used for recreation.

Jesse Duff, assistant to the Duarte city manager, said that while the City Council wants to block construction of a toxic waste incinerator, the council also believes there is a need for an equestrian center. He said the location is suitable because it is next to a trail that extends from the foothills to Long Beach.

Duff said there is no legal obstacle to a city that wants to lease or purchase property outside its boundaries. For example, the city of Los Angeles owns and operates Ontario International Airport.

Charles Martin, who serves as the city manager and city attorney for Irwindale, conceded that Duarte seems to have the advantage legally. He said federal regulations give preference to recreational use for federal land, even though in this case it might be more important to solve the area's trash problems than to provide an arena for horses and riders.

Landfill Space Scarce

Martin said, however, that it remains a goal of Irwindale to find solutions to the waste crisis created by diminishing landfill space and the realization that landfills are environmentally unsafe. The proposed waste incinerators would occupy land that is difficult to develop and would provide revenue to the city.

He said he agrees with critics who say the plants should not be built if they damage air quality. But, in Omega's case, he said, until a site is determined, the company cannot file for permits from regulatory agencies to demonstrate the plant's safety.

Martin said critics are unwilling to examine the facts. "They just say, 'It can't be done. Don't try.' "

Dreier said he is convinced that waste incineration plants do not belong in the San Gabriel Valley, which already suffers from poor air quality, and whose dumps already receive too much of the county's trash.

Dreier said Duarte's offer "would protect the quality of life in the San Gabriel Valley," and he sees no reason it will not be accepted by the federal government if the county drops its lease.

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