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City Council Rakes Commission in Pollution Dispute

December 08, 1985|VICTOR M. VALLE | Times Staff Writer

WEST COVINA — The City Council has attacked a city commission for publicly criticizing council opposition to a proposed trash-to-energy plant in Irwindale.

Although the council had itself asked the panel to investigate the Irwindale project, it warned members of the Transition/Waste Management Commission at a spirited meeting last week that it will not tolerate public criticism of its policies. Mayor Forest Tennant told them that their job was to be "loyal to the city," and a councilman told them they should resign if they want to criticize the council and its policies.

In a letter, the commission told the council that the BKK landfill in West Covina is a far worse source of air pollution than the Irwindale project would be.

The City Council and especially the mayor have been outspoken leaders of a campaign to stop the trash-to-energy plant. The commission was formed last year to advise the council on landfill matters, but in September the council asked the commission to study the merits of the trash-to-energy project.

The commission concluded in its letter that a comparison of air pollution emissions at the BKK Landfill and the Irwindale project indicated that the landfill owned and operated by BKK Corp. was a far greater source of air pollution.

"You don't sit there and bad-mouth the city," said Mayor Forest Tennant, who has led opposition in the San Gabriel Valley to the proposed Irwindale facility. "Your job is to be loyal to the city."

Councilman Robert Bacon said the commissioners should resign if they want to continue criticizing council actions and policies. Although the commissioners disagreed with the contention that they should not speak publicly about their concerns, most of them agreed to comply with the council's directive.

Eight cities have joined with Tennant and West Covina in opposing the Irwindale project. Some of the cities also oppose trash-burning plants that have been proposed for the county-run Puente Hills Landfill near Hacienda Heights, the county-run Spadra Landfill in Pomona and a private venture in Azusa.

Dissension between the council and the commission has been simmering since September, when the council took its stand against the proposed Irwindale facility and then asked the commission to study the project's merits.

The dispute came to a head when the commission sent a letter to the council saying that no evidence could be found on which to base opposition to the Irwindale project.

"To publicly state your concern over the possible emissions from the Irwindale plant, while at the same time ignoring the significantly higher levels of pollution currently being emitted from the BKK Landfill, is a significant omission on your part," the commissioners said in its Sept. 23 letter.

The commissioners said they wrote the letter because they had been put in the difficult position of reviewing an issue on which the council had already taken a stand.

At the Monday meeting, Bacon said the city will continue to do all it can to reduce the toxic gas emissions escaping from the landfill. He and other council members said they have taken strong stands to protect residents against possible environmental dangers near the landfill.

Bacon pointed out that the city had succeeded in persuading BKK's owners to sign an agreement last month that requires BKK to take steps to prevent landfill toxins from contaminating local ground water supplies and to install an emissions-collection and methane-burning system to reduce toxic emissions. The owners have also agreed to close the landfill in 10 years.

But the commissioners said that the council has not been aggressive enough in dealing with BKK.

In its review, the seven commissioners concluded that even after the new devices are installed, a predicted 30,500 pounds of pollutants will be released each day at BKK, compared to 12,400 at the Irwindale plant. Their review was based on figures provided by officials from BKK and the Irwindale project, said members of the commission, which includes a chemist, an environmental engineer, a nurse, a minister, a former labor negotiator and a businessman.

The commissioners promised to continue their independent study of the Irwindale project, which is designed to burn 3,000 tons of trash a day and generate enough electricity to provide power to 40,000 homes.

The skirmish Monday was the most open expression of conflict between the council and the commission, city officials and commissioners said.

"Frankly, from my point of view, you've been out of control," Tennant said. He accused the commission of using "confrontational" tactics in its dealings with the council.

Commissioner Louis Gilbert disagreed. He said the commission must advise the city on an inherently volatile subject: How to protect the public against the potential dangers posed by the tons of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes that have been buried at the BKK Landfill over the years.

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