Willco Dump Cleanup to Start, Clearing Way for Century Freeway

Times Staff Writer

After several years of delay, next month a procession of large trucks is expected to start hauling hazardous materials away from the notorious Willco Dump, site of one of four major interchanges planned for the Century Freeway.

Nearly 100,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste will be removed and disposed of at a cost of $15.9 million, said Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

"We have kept our promise to the people to remove all hazardous waste from here," Waters announced last week at a press conference held near the closed 14-acre dump, with state Department of Transportation and state health and water representatives.

More than 50 trucks, their toxic loads covered with plastic sheeting, will travel about 200 miles along Southern California's freeways from Lynwood, across the San Fernando Valley to the Kettleman Hills disposal site north of Bakersfield.

No Hauling on City Streets

There will be no hauling on city streets and the California Highway Patrol will monitor truck travel along the routes, said Donald L. Watson, Caltrans district director.

The Tudor Saliba Co. of Sylmar is being paid $7.9 million to excavate and haul toxic deposits of zinc, cooper, chromium and other heavy metals, including leads from paint sludge and discarded batteries, from the site.

This week, Tudor Saliba employees, including those doing the excavating as well as the truck drivers, started two weeks of training on how to handle the material safely, said William Charbonneau, Caltrans senior engineer.

Protective Clothing, Masks

When cleanup begins, the workers will be dressed in protective throwaway paper suits and wear "face masks with self-contained air," and the drivers will be required to remain in the truck cabs throughout their trips from Lynwood to Kettleman Hills, Charbonneau said. He also said there will be continual monitoring of Lynwood air quality during the cleanup.

Charbonneau said it should take about seven months to complete the cleanup. Work probably could begin on the Century Freeway interchange with the Long Beach Freeway around the first of 1988.

As part of the Century Freeway Affirmative Action stipulation, more than 34% of the contractors had to be minority and female. This was accomplished, Waters said, with $2.3 million awarded to minority firms and $389,698 given to firms owned by women.

Only Two Sites Qualify

The remaining $8 million of the total $15.9 million will be paid to the Kettleman toxic waste facility for dumping fees.

Kettleman is one of only two toxic waste facilities qualified to take these materials, Charbonneau said. The other one is in the Santa Barbara area, he said.

Dumping fees are less expensive at Kettleman, and to get there the trucks would not have to travel on city streets as they would in Santa Barbara, Charbonneau said.

Letters are being sent to Lynwood residents to inform them of the operation and they will be asked to contact Caltrans immediately with any complaints, Charbonneau said.

Angry public protests surfaced in February, 1984, after Caltrans decided to leave the material in the dump and cover it with plastic before proceeding with freeway construction.

Fear of Contamination

"People were scared that toxic waste would contaminate the city's drinking water," said George W. Higgins, who has lived in Lynwood more than 50 years and operates a mobile home park near the site.

"They dumped everything there, batteries, paint, everything really," said Higgins, who worked for a brief time at the site in the 1950s.

Tests show that there has been no contamination of ground water or drinking water, but the removal of all the materials assure that there will not be any in the future, said Hank Wacoub, supervising engineer for the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Lynwood derives about two-thirds of its drinking water from wells, some of which are about a mile from the dump.

In 1983, Caltrans awarded a $4-million contract to Andrew Papac & Sons of South El Monte to clear the site, Charbonneau said. However, numerous problems developed and by the time work stopped in 1984, the cost had soared to $12 million.

Suit Asks Reimbursement, Damages

Caltrans filed suit against Papac & Sons, seeking reimbursement and damages totaling $22 million. Papac countersued, asking damages and claiming that Caltrans still owed on the contract. That legal fight is still in the courts.

In February, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner announced that five businessmen had been charged with shortchanging Caltrans by about $1 million during the cleanup.

Reiner said the charges stem from a secret agreement made in August, 1983, between Papac and BKK Corp., owner of a landfill in West Covina where about 225,000 tons of waste was deposited before the cleanup operation was stopped. The pact enabled Papac & Sons to reduce the cost of disposing of the waste while keeping the savings for the company and concealing the $5-a-ton price cut from state officials, Reiner said.

Charged with two felony counts of grand theft and two counts of conspiracy were Andrew Papac; his son, Andrew G. Papac; the firm itself, and a business associate, William Paul Dunlap of Hollywood.

Conspiracy Charged

Charged with conspiracy to commit grand theft were Jack Thompson, manager of the BKK landfill, former BKK controller Charles Dean Virden and the BKK Corp. In addition, Dunlap and his wife, Patricia Ann Dunlap, were charged with failing to file state income tax returns for 1983 and 1984.

The $110-million Century Freeway interchange will cover about 60 acres, including the entire Willco Dump site, which will be refilled with clean fill. The $1.8-billion Century Freeway will stretch 17.3 miles from Norwalk to Los Angeles International Airport.

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