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Plan to Build Waste Plant Abandoned : Toxics: Firm says the facility is no longer economically viable. The proposal had been opposed by Huntington Park High School and neighborhood groups.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal to build a hazardous waste treatment plant within 1,000 feet of a high school in Huntington Park was abandoned Wednesday after years of protest by parents, students and local legislators.

An official of Chem-Clear Inc., a subsidiary of Union Pacific Corp., said Wednesday that the recession produced “uncertain market conditions in the hazardous waste treatment business and the plant would no longer be economically viable.

“We serve the industry that generates this stuff, and it’s not doing so good in Southern California,” said Ken Loest, director of environmental services.

Chem-Clear first proposed building the plant in 1986 in an abandoned factory at Slauson and Boyle avenues in heavily industrial Vernon, on Huntington Park’s northern border. Huntington Park High School and dozens of homes are a stone’s throw away.

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The firm had sought permits that would have enabled it to treat as much as 140,000 gallons of hazardous industrial waste each day.

Community leaders on Wednesday claimed victory. They had opposed the plant with raucous demonstrations, some attended by hundreds of students, as far back as 1988. Spills of toxic waste and fires that could have sent noxious fumes into the air were the most common concerns.

State Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) had long opposed the proposed plant, saying it was another example of an attempt to place a potentially hazardous facility in a low-income, minority community. Huntington Park is more than 90% Latino.

The Los Angeles School Board also voted to oppose the plant. And Huntington Park Councilman Ric Loya, a health teacher at Huntington Park High, started organizing his students in 1988 to march and picket against the proposed treatment plant.

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Last week, the United Neighborhoods Organization had given Chem-Clear a Nov. 4 deadline to drop its plans, but did not say what actions the group would take. On Tuesday night, UNO held a candlelight vigil at the site as part of its opposition campaign.

“We’re thrilled,” said Father Rody Gorman, pastor of St. Matthias Catholic Church in Huntington Park and an UNO leader. “I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we went in and demanded that they move or we’d take further actions.”

The state Department of Health Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had found that the plant could operate safely, and both agencies had approved operating permits.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District had initially approved permits for the plant, but then decided to require more extensive studies on its environmental impact. Those studies were in progress, a spokeswoman said.

Loest said Chem-Clear had spent a “substantial amount of money” advancing its proposal but he said he did not know exactly how much. He refrained from criticizing Chem-Clear’s opponents.

“We recognize the concerns that were there,” Loest said. “But we really believe the facility was safe or we wouldn’t have pursued it.”

In recent years, two proposals to build incinerators in the Los Angeles area have died after strong public opposition.

Last May, Security Environmental Systems of Garden Grove gave up its plan to build a commercial hazardous waste incinerator in Vernon because “interminable” lawsuits threatened to push the cost sky-high. The firm already had spent $4 million advancing its proposal.

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In 1987, public pressure and opposition from Mayor Tom Bradley prompted the Los Angeles City Council to kill the “Lancer project,” a proposal to build a municipal trash-to-energy incinerator near the Memorial Coliseum.


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