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Hopes higher, but skepticism remains at Devil’s Gate safety meeting

Hopes higher, but skepticism remains at Devil’s Gate safety meeting
A panel of city, school and safety officials joined Los Angeles County Public Works Department employees to speak about the Devil's Gate Reservoir Restoration project Monday during a safety meeting at the La Cañada High School hosted by community group LCF 4 Healthy Air. (James Carbone)

When concerned La Cañada residents attended a meeting in December to learn about the county’s plans to remove more than 2.8 million tons of sediment from nearby Devil’s Gate Dam starting this spring, fear and anxiety predominated.

Many hadn’t heard about the project and didn’t know diesel trucks would haul sediment loads near schools and recreation areas in hundreds of daily trips eight months out of the year for up to four years.

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By contrast, at a second meeting at La Cañada High School Tuesday, community members seemed somewhat bolstered by recent local efforts to monitor project emissions, keep a watchful eye on hauler trucks and raise the red flag at the first sign of warning.

The difference can largely be attributed to community group LCF 4 Healthy Air. Comprising parents with backgrounds in chemistry, public health and environmental science, the group has rallied local officials and secured promises of assistance from elected politicians.

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Working with La Cañada Unified School District and the City Council, they’ve met with state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who’s working to secure funds for filtration systems, and L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who in April mandated the county monitor dig emissions using an independent consultant working under the advisement of regional environmental groups.

LCUSD has collected baseline air quality data and is considering updating air filters to surgical grade units. A request has been made with the city to hire a crossing guard at the intersection of Oak Grove Drive and Berkshire Avenue, and plans are afoot to relocate or cancel outdoor classes and programs on days when the air is bad.

“We won’t conduct those programs if the air quality is poor or unhealthful,” said Supt. Wendy Sinnette. “That likely means it will impact our seasons and our sports programs.”

Elizabeth Krider, an LCUSD parent who teaches science research classes at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and co-founded LCF 4 Healthy Air, delivered a progress report.

Since October, the county has agreed to accept only trucks that meet 2010 emission standards and will require drivers to register through the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and prove their trucks are not subject to recall. On-site inspections will limit the opacity of truck exhaust to 5%, below the 40% state standard.

“The project’s in a better place now than it was six months ago, because of the efforts that we’ve all made,” Krider said.

Steve Burger, the county Public Works assistant deputy director overseeing the cleanup, assured the agency was going above and beyond with a “community-first approach.”

Environmental tests project nitrous oxide emissions from one day of hauling will be 10 times lower than what’s already generated daily by four drive-through restaurants in town, Burger said.

“We’ve got some numbers indicating to us we’re already doing pretty good here, and we believe real soon with this monitoring we’ll have in place we’re going to know real quick how that’s turning out,” he added.

Despite the progress, some remained skeptical. La Cañada environmentalist Marnie Gaede said she was doubtful the county would be responsive to complaints about intolerable air and noise conditions during the project.

“How are they really going to be accountable?” she wondered.

On May 7 at 6 p.m., the La Cañada Flintridge City Council will discuss creating a community action plan to respond if and when monitoring reveals signs of trouble.

“We all hope it will all be great, but if it’s not that’s why this action plan needs to be in place,” said Mayor Len Pieroni. “To get too far along in the project [without one] is going to make that opportunity a lost possibility.”

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