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'Cautious Relief' Greets Defeat of Trash Plant

April 26, 1987|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

A proposed 3,000-ton-a-day trash burner in Irwindale was rejected last week, but even the dozens of local officials who gathered to drink champagne afterward admitted that the party may not last forever.

"This," said Duarte City Manager Jess Duff, "is only a cautious sigh of relief."

The restrained celebration Thursday came after a dramatic three-hour public meeting of the state Energy Commission, during which developers of the waste-to-energy plant unexpectedly withdrew their proposal and pledged to build a smaller plant that would not require commission approval.

Even though the five-member commission took the additional step of unanimously killing the controversial project, city officials throughout the San Gabriel Valley said the fight was not over and vowed to battle even a scaled-down version of the incinerator.

"They're going to face the same opposition and more," said Azusa Mayor Eugene Moses, who attended the party hosted by the City of Duarte at the Rapscallion restaurant in Irwindale. "It's a lot easier for them to leave than us."

West Covina City Councilman Forest Tennant, who began mobilizing opposition to the project nearly two years ago, said he would fight any waste-to-energy plant proposed for this area.

"I'm still against it," Tennant said. "No matter how small it gets."

By reducing their proposed 74-megawatt incinerator to below 50 megawatts, Pacific Waste Management Corp. could sidestep the Energy Commission's jurisdiction, thereby requiring the Pasadena-based firm to get approval only from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and other agencies.

"Although this would result in a smaller project, we would welcome a realistic permitting process," John P. McGrain, head of Pacific Waste's parent company, said at the hearing Thursday afternoon.

McGrain, who requested that members of the Energy Commission not interrupt his presentation as the hearing began, accused the commission of using "innuendo" and "misrepresentation" in its handling of the project.

"Much of the project's opposition has been generated by false and misleading statements, by half-truths and innuendo," he said. "With proper environmental controls, waste-to-energy plants have been proven safe and offer a solution to the waste disposal crisis."

Then, as the 200 people filling the gymnasium next to Irwindale City Hall stared in disbelief, McGrain quickly walked out the door without answering questions from the commissioners or reporters. Charles Imbrecht, chairman of the commission, had to bang his gavel several times before the cheering crowd returned to order.

"Although the fox left the henhouse on his own, let's lock the gate," said Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), urging the commission to vote on the matter even though the Pacific Waste representatives had withdrawn the permit application.

Irwindale City Manager Charles Martin, whose city helped finance the project by issuing $395 million in bonds in 1984, said he was "shocked and surprised" by Pacific Waste's action and said he will wait to see details of the new proposal before commenting on it.

Originally hailed as one of the country's largest trash incinerators, the project has been plagued by critics ever since Pacific Waste proposed building the 85-acre plant in an Irwindale gravel pit in October, 1984.

Led by the Miller Brewing Co., which runs a brewery across the Foothill (210) Freeway from the proposed site, opponents have claimed that the trash burner would increase smog and could endanger the public health.

In all, 16 neighboring cities, two local congressmen, four local legislators, several citizens groups and a host of chambers of commerce, school districts and realty boards have gone on record condemning either the Irwindale project specifically or all such plants generally in the San Gabriel Valley.

"Our question has been: 'Where's the fairness?' " said Tennant, noting that the San Gabriel Valley handles 50% to 75% of Los Angeles County's trash, while accounting for only 20% of the population.

The first major blow to the project came in April, 1986, when the Energy Commission voted to suspend Pacific Waste's permits until the firm could demonstrate that it had been able to meet all air pollution requirements.

Under state and federal law, large polluting plants can be constructed only if the developer can prove that pollution elsewhere has been reduced. To do this, the developer can purchase credits from plants that either have shut down or have installed more pollution control devices than legally required.

Known as offset credits, they demonstrate that pollution from a proposed plant is being offset by reductions from other polluters.

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