Townhouse residents near Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian are protesting a plan that would move a 30-foot-tall methane gas-burning flare closer to their property.
The Newport Beach Townhouse Owners' Assn. has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the relocation. The suit asserts that the residents of the 28 homes along West Coast Highway were not told of the plans until about two weeks ago.
But a spokesman for the hospital said the methane gas treatment plan is part of Hoag's master plan that has been debated for three years.
Pete Foulke, Hoag's executive vice president, said the new flare will be part of an updated system to collect and burn off the methane gas that forms naturally underground in the area. Unless the gas is collected and burned, it emits fumes, he said.
The current flare is in the center of Hoag's property and was acquired when Hoag bought the site from the city, he said. The framework is rusting and "could be blown down with the wind."
At the flare site, the gas has sulfur in it and releases particulates into the air, he said. Currently, there are air-quality monitors at a nearby child care center and a cancer center on the Hoag property, Foulke said.
"We monitor the heck out of it. Never have we found anything measurable, in terms of toxic substances," he said. "The only thing measurable is right at the flame."
The new flare would be built about 1,000 feet to the northwest, closer to Superior Avenue. The flare would be covered, and the tanks next to it would be screened with trees or bushes, he said. Scrubbers in the system will make the gas cleaner, he added.
The new flare is part of a $1.5-million project to collect, route, scrub and burn the methane, he said. About half the cost is being paid by Caltrans because a significant amount of seepage occurs at West Coast Highway.
The matter was on the agenda of the state Coastal Commission earlier this week, meeting in Eureka, more than 600 miles away.
The issue was taken off the agenda, though, because of the residents' concerns, said Tary C. Loomis-Therrien, attorney for the townhouse owners.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District, in a letter to the Coastal Commission, noted that it is in the "best public interest to move the flare away from Hoag's child care center to reduce potential human exposure to the gases involved."