AZUSA — The City Council has decided to seek help from voters in determining whether to allow construction of a waste-to-energy plant.
The council this week placed a measure on the April 8 ballot asking: "Should a waste-to-energy plant be allowed in the city of Azusa?"
The measure is merely advisory, but Mayor Eugene Moses said the voting will no doubt determine whether Azusa Energy Systems Inc. will receive the permit it is seeking to build a plant to burn 2,000 tons of trash a day. The plant, which would generate enough electrical power for more than 25,000 homes, is proposed on 19 acres at the Azusa Land Reclamation landfill on Gladstone Street.
Hearing Jan. 6
The Planning Commission has approved a permit for the plant but its decision was appealed to the City Council, which has scheduled a hearing Jan. 6. Moses said he expects the council to defer a decision at the hearing until after the municipal election.
"When you're gambling with people's lives and there's a choice to be made, it should be left to the people," Moses said.
The mayor said he views trash-to-energy plants as a health gamble because of the environmental risks of air emissions and the possibility of accidents and breakdowns in plant equipment. Dumps, which now handle most urban refuse, are also a risk because they leak contaminants into ground water, he said. Moses said he thinks the federal government should help communities find a better way of disposing of refuse, but in the meantime he will leave it to voters to "choose their own poison."
Mile From Irwindale Site
The proposed Azusa plant is about a mile from an Irwindale quarry in which Pacific Waste Management Corp. is seeking to build a waste-to-energy plant that would handle 3,000 tons of trash a day. Miller Brewing Co., which runs a brewery near the site, is waging a vigorous fight against the Irwindale plant.
A number of officials and cities in the San Gabriel Valley, including Azusa, have united in an effort to defeat the Irwindale proposal.
Clifton Amos, manager of community relations at Miller headquarters in Milwaukee, said his company opposes both the Azusa and Irwindale plants on environmental grounds. Miller has intervened against Pacific Waste's permit application before the state Energy Commission and appealed the Planning Commission's approval of the Azusa plant.
The appeal filed by Miller cites 10 deficiencies in environmental studies on the Azusa project, ranging from failure to consider other sites to inadequacies in the analysis of information on air emissions and other environmental impacts.
"Anybody can sit back and throw rocks," said Bruce Williams, who heads Azusa Energy Systems Inc. "Anybody who wants to play the role of spoiler can always say that whatever is done is not enough."
On the matter of site selection, for example, he asked rhetorically, "How much better can you get than to put it in a landfill?" Material that cannot be burned in the plant can be separated and buried, and ash from the plant could also be disposed of in the landfill.
Company Will Campaign
Williams said his company will undertake a campaign for the measure on the April 8 ballot.
"I don't know what kind of effort it will take," he said, "but we're planning to present to voters what the benefits of the plant would be."
Williams said he will calculate the economic benefits and make the argument that the area is running out of means for disposing of trash and must have an incineration plant. Williams said that although "there is always going to be some pollution" from a waste-to-energy plant, the impact on air quality in Azusa would be just as great if the plant were built miles aways in Los Angeles. The prevailing wind patterns push smog into the San Gabriel Valley, he said, and the area might as well derive the economic benefit.
Aside from Miller Brewing Co.'s involvement, there has been very little public opposition to the proposed Azusa plant, Williams said. There were only five people in the audience at the Planning Commission hearing, he said.
No Involvement in Election
Miller Brewing has no plans to be active in the Azusa election, Amos said.
"It's great that voters are going to have the opportunity" to decide the issue, he said, but "we're not going to do anything to influence voters."
Council members were divided over whether the issue should go on the ballot; Jim Cook and Bruce Latta objected on the basis that they were elected to make such decisions. Cook said he was particularly concerned that delaying a decision until after the April election could give a decisive edge to the rival Irwindale trash-to-energy plant.
Proponents of both the Irwindale and Azusa plants have agreed that only one plant is needed, and Cook said he regards the Azusa project as superior because it would be smaller and situated in an existing dump. It would be unfortunate, Cook said, if delay killed the Azusa project, instead of letting it be decided on its merits.
Cook said he believes the measure will be difficult to pass because of concern about air pollution, but there is still a chance the measure could pass once voters see all the information about the plant.