DWP Takes Heat From Its Own Citizens Panel Over Water Cleanup

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was assailed by its Community Work Group, a 22-member advisory panel that is monitoring efforts to clean up contaminated ground water in the San Fernando Valley.

At a chaotic meeting Thursday night at DWP headquarters, panel members complained that they were "impotent," unable to influence the way the water department and federal Environmental Protection Agency were planning a $12-million investigation and cleanup of four polluted sites.

DWP, awaiting final approval from the EPA and City Council, is preparing to study areas in North Hollywood, Burbank, La Crescenta and Glendale where industrial chemicals have tainted municipal water wells.

In 1984, the EPA added the well fields to its Superfund list, a tally of sites throughout the country where contamination is serious enough to warrant a federally funded cleanup. DWP is the lead agency in charge of the project.

Delays Criticized

The Community Work Group was created by the water department earlier this year under EPA guidelines for any cleanup program paid for through the Superfund. But many members charged that DWP delays in creating the work group have prevented it from having any meaningful impact.

"We should have been involved a year ago," said Michael Kent, a member from Citizens for a Better Environment, a nonprofit organization that calls attention to pollution problems. As things stand, he said, "we're just paying lip service" to DWP plans that have been worked out and cannot be easily changed.

Michael Nolan, representing Burbank Mayor Mary Kelsey, decried the lack of input that Burbank has had in planning the cleanup, even though chemical contamination has forced that city to abandon all of its wells.

Nolan said the panel should have had some say in developing terms of DWP's first contract for work on the cleanup, a $2-million study of the extent of the pollution. Negotiations on the contract between DWP and Montgomery Engineers, a Pasadena engineering firm, have been completed for some time but the contract has not been signed.

Details Confidential

Walter Hoye, director of water engineering for DWP, said Burbank did, in fact, have a representative on the committee that evaluated proposals from various contractors to do the study. As for the contract, he said, details on prices of various services are confidential. A summary of the contract was given to the panel.

Exercising one of the few powers it has, the group voted to replace the DWP official who had been acting as moderator for the sessions, Bob Haw, with an official from EPA, which group members said is less biased than DWP.

At its first meeting, on March 31, the work group had been told not to expect to have much influence. The group can lobby to influence political decisions affecting the project or persuade the EPA to order changes in DWP contracts, said Paula Bisson, chief of the EPA's state programs section for Superfund projects for the Western states.

But, she told the group, "we don't want to mislead anybody here into thinking that you're directing the project. It is EPA that will make the decisions. We're spending the money."

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