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Aquarium Plan Hits Snag on Asbestos Peril

May 07, 1987|BOBBIE JO LEE | Times Staff Writer

A $30-million proposal by a local construction firm to convert an old San Diego Gas & Electric power plant into a giant aquarium must come to grips with the question of what to do with considerable amounts of asbestos throughout the building, health authorities say.

The plant, located downtown at Kettner Boulevard and Broadway, was built in the early 1920s, a time when asbestos was used for insulation and as a fire retardant. The chemical is now known to cause serious health problems once it becomes airborne.

SDG&E recently awarded the Hope Construction Co. a one-year contract for exclusive negotiating rights to determine the feasibility of the aquarium project, which contemplates moving crowds through exhibits on a six-foot-wide people mover. The project includes surrounding restaurants and shops.

In 1983, SDG&E officials shut down the generators at the plant because they were inefficient, and the company began using three other major plants throughout the county. Since that time the plant has been used to supply steam to heat 65 downtown buildings, SDG&E spokesman Dave Smith said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 9, 1987 San Diego County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
The Times incorrectly identified the president of Hope Consulting Group in a story published Thursday about the company's proposal to convert an old power plant into an aquarium. The president of the firm is Chuck Hope.

Aware of the Problem

Executives of SDG&E and Hope Construction say they are aware of the asbestos inside the 77,000-square-foot building. It is on pipes, boilers and anywhere there is hot equipment.

"We know the asbestos is there," said Duane Nelson, manager of the SDG&E South Bay Power Plant. "We have a special staff person check the insulation on a regular basis. It is fine until you start moving things around and then you just have to follow state regulations."

But county health authorities and state-licensed asbestos handlers say the cost of removing the asbestos alone could hike the project's cost by many thousands of dollars.

However, neither the cost nor possible difficulties in removing the asbestos has been discussed because the negotiation agreement, good for a year, provides ample time to analyze the matter, said Chuck Look, president of the Hope Construction.

"There is so much that might have to be done," said Larry Marshall, chief of occupation and radiological health for the county Health Department. "It could easily cost thousands of dollars. A small house alone costs between $3,500 and $5,000 (to clear of asbestos). You can't even dispose of it in this county, you have to go to Los Angeles."

Disposal Is Difficult

Marshall said the asbestos would have to be transported to a dump site in Los Angeles for disposal because it is friable, meaning it would crumble under pressure.

Officials of a state-licensed asbestos removal company said that just finding the asbestos can be a tedious process.

"It can be in the floor tiles, in the ceiling tiles, it can be anywhere in those old buildings," said Larry Lange, sales manager for NAACO, a firm licensed by the state to remove asbestos. "If that building's pipes have it, it could be complex. It is a matter of sealing off the area and getting the matter into some rigid form. As a general rule, if it is fire retardant, it becomes airborne as soon as you scrape it--you have to be extremely cautious."

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