Panel Moves to Delay Lancer Incinerator

Times Staff Writers

In a new attack on Los Angeles’ proposed Lancer trash-to-energy project, state budget conferees Thursday sought to stop development of the huge trash incinerator until the state has had time to study it.

The issue came up when six members of a two-house conference committee took up a $1-million budget item to fund a study administered by the California Waste Management Board of waste management projects in California.

During debate on the issue, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) unexpectedly denounced the Lancer project and proposed an amendment declaring a moratorium on it pending completion of the study, which budget committee staff members said could take as long as two years.

Waters did not release details on who would conduct the study or what it should contain. It was not clear whether a state-mandated study of Lancer health risks that is already under way would satisfy her. And it was not immediately clear whether lawmakers could use the state budget to put a moratorium on the project.

Wins Support

But she was convincing enough to win the support of five other members of the committee, including Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys).


After the action, Waters said she was disturbed by questions about the safety of the Lancer project and the impact it would have on residents of South-Central Los Angeles. She said she did not know quite how to proceed, but decided “to seize the opportunity” and try to temporarily halt further work on the project when the budget item came up for discussion.

“This will create a lot more discussion and debate about the project,” she predicted.

Waters said she was disturbed by legislation carried by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana) and supported by some members of the Los Angeles City Council aimed at discontinuing landfills in the Santa Monica Mountains and prohibiting any new ones.

“This indicates that perhaps somebody thinks Lancer may be a way of disposing of the waste that now goes into landfills,” she said.

‘Threatened by Project’

Waters said residents in her South-Central district “feel threatened by the project.” She added that the study “may give us all the opportunity to learn more and to see what the technology is and to answer the questions in a way that will be satisfactory.”

Plans for the Lancer (Los Angeles City Energy Recovery) incinerator, which would burn household garbage to generate electricity, are already on hold. But the city is expected to strongly oppose any effort to delay the project more than a few months.

Lengthy delays could cause the city to forfeit the financing arrangements already in place and jeopardize the project, city sanitation officials contend.

Under pressure from homeowner groups and other opponents, the City Council has already cooled its initial enthusiasm for the $235-million project. More than $10 million has already been spent on studies, consultants and to purchase a 13-acre site at 41st Street and Alameda Avenue, and the Ogden-Martin Co. was selected to build and operate the incinerator. But the council has yet to give final approval.

State-Mandated Study

The council’s approval, and a necessary permit from local air quality officials, are awaiting completion of the state-mandated study to evaluate the health risks of burning garbage in the Los Angeles Basin, home to some of the worst air in the nation.

An early version of the risk study published in April concluded that the Lancer incinerator posed a very low cancer threat to nearby residents. The draft study is now being reviewed by state and local officials, a committee of medical doctors convened by the city and separately by community groups who have charged that it was inadequate.

Although no formal approval for Lancer is needed from state officials, several bills are now moving through the Legislature that would slow the project’s development.

The South-Central plant is only the first of three Lancer incinerators that city sanitation officials hope to build as an alternative place to get rid of the 5,000 tons of garbage Los Angeles residents toss out each day.

The others would be located in the San Fernando Valley, where most of the trash is now buried in landfills, and on the Westside. No sites for these plants have been chosen, and both officials and activists have predicted the opposition will be greater in those areas.