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County criticized for not taking action on Devil’s Gate dust concerns

Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project
Trucks line up for a quick wash-down before heading out with a load of dirt from the Hahamongna Watershed Park L.A. County Public Works Department’s Devil’s Gate Dam Sediment Removal project on July 30.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

County Public Works officials updated residents on the progress of the Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal in a La Cañada Flintridge City Council study session Tuesday, sharing measures being taken to reduce diesel emissions and dust at the 50-acre hauling site.

But minutes into their presentation, residents and city officials — who for months have called on the county to install an on-site tire wash station and ensure all hauler beds are covered or tarped — could hardly contain their disappointment with a mitigation response they consider too little, too late.

Steve Burger, a deputy director overseeing the work, explained to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and residents a tire wash approved in June could be operational by the month’s end.

He also said hauling route times would be changed slightly so that trucks would enter and leave via Altadena’s Windsor Avenue exit from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. each day, avoiding Berkshire Place and traffic at La Cañada High School.

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Further, Burger promised in the next two to three weeks the county would begin a pilot program in which five of the project’s 95 diesel trucks would be tarped to determine whether covers significantly reduced the fugitive dust and dirt that have been at the center of resident complaints since hauling began May 21.

“We’re going to put tarps on some of the trucks. We’re going to follow the trucks, measure the success, and we’ll actually be able to determine if the tarps are making a difference,” he said.

In an earlier interview with the Valley Sun, Burger indicated about 5% of the trucks already have covers. It was unclear Tuesday whether the pilot would involve tarping an additional five trucks or simply monitoring the five trucks that already have covers.

Councilman Jon Curtis said he saw no need to pilot something that seemed a matter of common sense.

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“To me it’s already standard practice — something that’s covered is not going to have dust coming off,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Brown said residents have endured 49 hauling days but have seen little progress on promises made months ago to install a tire wash station and a left turn light from Oak Grove Drive onto Berkshire Place.

“A lot of time has passed and I think patience is growing short — I know it is with me,” he said. “We’d really encourage you to move forward with those solutions. Anybody can see it doesn’t take a study.”

Brown also urged the county to consider measuring diesel emissions directly from the tailpipes of the trucks, rather than relying on air monitor readings, to get a true measure of pollutants.

“We could make this all go away just by moving forward on a couple of solutions,” he added.

Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project
A truck creates a fine muddy mist as it heads out with a load of dirt from the Hahamongna Watershed Park L.A. County Public Works Department’s Devil’s Gate Dam Sediment Removal project, in La Canada Flintridge on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Residents shared worries over the clarity of air quality data provided by the county and the project’s impacts on children in schools and programs at the dig site as La Cañada Unified schools prepare to start a new school year Aug. 15.

Jackie Schaedel said her 19-year-old daughter, who works summers for the Spartans Allstars Sports Day Camp, recently came down with breathing issues and was put on a prescription asthma medication, though she had no history of asthma.

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“I know it’s an anecdote, but it puts a human face on it, so I felt obligated to share,” she said.

After the study session, council members convened for their regular meeting. They heard a report from South Coast Air Quality Management District representatives, who described their own efforts to regularly inspect and track dust and air quality emissions at the project site.

Marian Coleman, assistant deputy executive officer for AQMD’s Compliance and Enforcement division, said the agency recorded its first official violation at the dig site Aug. 1.

“The violation that we saw was visible fugitive dust on the roadways that crossed beyond the property line,” Coleman said. “That dust had probably come off a truck, landed on the roadway and then as vehicular traffic went through the area the dust came and got entrained in the tires and up in the air.”

Coleman confirmed the violation was processed through the agency’s legal department and encouraged residents to log exhaust and dust tracking complaints at 1 (800) CUT-SMOG (288-7664).

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