A controversial proposal by BKK Corp. to build a hazardous-waste treatment plant in Wilmington has cleared a major legal roadblock, and the company says it is taking steps to determine how soon it can get the permits needed to begin construction.
A three-member state Court of Appeal panel on May 30 upheld a 1984 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling that BKK's environmental impact report was valid. The panel found that the report meets federal standards for protecting the environment.
Ken Kazarian, president of BKK, which also runs a landfill in West Covina, said the Torrance company intends to apply to the state Department of Health Services for operating permits to enable it to complete the project, which was tabled when the suit was filed in 1984.
John Hinton, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services, said his agency has reviewed an application submitted by BKK before the lawsuit was filed and will give the project serious consideration if the company renews its application.
No Hazardous Waste
BKK's West Covina landfill was once one of the nation's largest handlers of hazardous waste. Pressure from the public and regulatory agencies forced the company to stop accepting hazardous waste at that landfill in November, 1984, and the company has agreed to close the dump entirely within 10 years.
When it first proposed construction of the Wilmington treatment plant, BKK said it would haul the waste residue to West Covina. But that plan is no longer feasible since hazardous waste disposal is no longer permitted at the landfill, which has been plagued by problems of leaking gas and accusations that its liquids are threatening to contaminate the area's ground water.
BKK opened a waste treatment plant in San Diego County in 1983 but closed it when business failed to meet expectations.
Kazarian said he was "very pleased with the (court's) decision. In 1982 we said we'd be operating by 1984, so now I think I'll just say we'll probably be ready within two years."
But JoAnn Wysocki, president of the Harbor Coalition Against Toxic Waste, a neighborhood group that filed the suit, said the coalition will appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court. The coalition contends that the project would add toxics to local sewers that spill into Los Angeles Harbor through the city's Terminal Island Treatment Plant. The coalition also argued that the environmental impact report failed to discuss the plant's effects on nearby schools.
"We're calling into question the process they use, the disposing of the remains, and what's going to be put into the sewers," Wysocki said.
"Wilmington will be the recipient of every drop of hazardous waste south of the Tehachapis (mountain range) if this goes through," she said.
Hearing Not Expected
Ron Gastelum, BKK's attorney, said he considers it highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear the case, since two lower courts had agreed that the report was valid.
But Ellen Winterbottom, attorney for the coalition, said she believes that the court will take the case because the report failed to consider many environmental problems.
The proposed plant, to be located near the Route 47 Freeway and Long Beach city limits in southeast Wilmington, would accept up to 87 truckloads a day of liquid hazardous waste from industries in the county. The liquid would be reduced during treatment to about 16 truckloads of dry residue.
The residue, which state and federal pollution officials say is far less hazardous than liquid waste, would probably be taken to one of the state's two remaining hazardous-waste sites, near Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, Kazarian said.
Local sewers would be used to dump the highly salty water from which the hazardous residues were removed.
Kazarian said landfills are a thing of the past, and treatment is the way of the future.
"The fact is that with all the new laws coming on line, we are running out of places to put hazardous wastes, and treatment that dramatically reduces the volume of this stuff is the only way to go," Kazarian said.
The project's biggest remaining hurdle is a public hearing before the state Department of Health Services, which would issue the company its operating permit.
Permit Approval Expected
Wysocki said her coalition expects the state to approve the permit.
"Everyone has always been saying that this process would solve the problem of hazardous wastes," Wysocki conceded. "But we feel the process simply prolongs the problem. Industry will never learn to stop producing hazardous waste if we give them a place like this where it can be treated."
Wysocki and other opponents predicted that the plant is at least several years away from construction and may not be built at all.