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U.S. Begins Paying Bills for Work at Closed Landfill

June 01, 1986|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

The federal government has assumed the $20,000-a-month cost of collecting and burning gas at the closed Operating Industries Inc. landfill in Monterey Park because the company quit paying for the work while reportedly owing its contractor $350,000.

The federal action came seven months after the state Department of Health Services assumed responsibility for removing leachate from the dump. The state stepped in after Operating Industries said it could not afford to pay the $50,000-a-month cost of trucking the liquid away.

Both landfill gas and leachate are created by the decomposition of waste. Failure to control leachate can lead to pollution of ground water. Uncontrolled gas can carry odors and contaminants into neighboring areas and can accumulate to explosive levels.

Although the federal and state governments are paying for the leachate and gas collection activities, authorities said they hope to recover the cost from Operating Industries eventually. The company could be billed for up to three times the cost.

The landfill, which closed in 1984, was recently placed on the federal Superfund list as a priority site for the cleanup of hazardous waste.

Lockman and Associates, which had run the gas collection system for Operating Industries and left the job about two weeks ago over nonpayment, has returned to the site as a federal contractor.

Wilbur Lockman, president of Lockman & Associates, said his company, which had been employed by Operating Industries since 1967, notified state health officials May 15 that it would leave the job because it was not being paid. State health officials contacted the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which sent a crew to the site and then arranged to have Lockman & Associates return two days later. Lockman said his firm has been supervising the collection of leachate as well as monitoring air emissions and running the gas collection system.

The system operated by Lockman & Associates to collect and burn gas supplements a gas recovery system run by GSF Energy Inc. GSF, which formerly drew gas out of the landfill and processed it for sale to Southern California Gas Co., is revamping its plant to burn gas to create electricity for sale to Southern California Edison Co.

Keith Takata, branch chief with the EPA regional office in San Francisco, said agency's immediate plans for the dump include expenditure of $1 million to buttress slopes and $500,000 to $1 million for improvements in the gas and leachate collection systems, installation of new fencing and the covering of exposed garbage.

"All of these things are interim actions," Takata said. A long-term investigation will be required to determine everything that should be done at the site, he said.

John Hinton, chief of the facility-permitting unit of the state health department's toxics control division in Los Angeles, said the state is spending about $15,000 a week for leachate removal and other work at the site. The state and federal governments have shared regulatory authority over the dump. Hinton noted that the state and other regulatory agencies have a court order that controls the disposal of Operating Industries' assets to ensure that corporate funds will be available for repayment of maintenance and cleanup costs.

Lockman said that the landfill owners are "honorable people" and would pay his firm if they had the cash. The amount owed is "in excess of $350,000," he said. Lockman said he expects to be paid eventually through the sale of Operating Industries' assets.

The chief asset is a 45-acre parcel that was part of the landfill before the Pomona Freeway was built through the dump in the 1960s. Both the 45 acres on the north side of the freeway and the 135-acre landfill south of the freeway were recently placed on the federal Superfund list.

Operating Industries, with backing from the city of Monterey Park and the state Department of Health Services, had sought to sell the 45 acres to a developer under a plan that would have generated $7 million to clean up the dump. But the deal was contingent on removal of the 45 acres from the Superfund list, and EPA officials said they will not remove the property until further studies indicate it is safe.

Monterey Park officials, who were counting on commercial development of the 45 acres to boost city sales tax revenue, said they still hope the property will be developed, but nothing can be done while it is on the Superfund list.

Dan Spradlin, attorney for Operating Industries, said the company will willingly cooperate with federal and state officials to sell assets to pay its bills. State health officials have said they believe that Operating Industries might be forced into bankruptcy.

"Sure it's possible," Spradlin said. "There's an awful lot of creditors who want to be paid."

But he said the owners of Operating Industries believe that the dump will have great value as property once it is cleaned up. After the cleanup and litigation expenses have been paid, he said, "there's still going to be the property--"135 acres within 10 miles of downtown Los Angeles.

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