DUARTE — Although the initial battle against a proposed waste-to-energy plant in nearby Irwindale has been won, this small foothill city is forging ahead in its fight against other proposed incineration plants and has offered to help other cities and groups mount opposition to such plants.
"Duarte believes the health hazards of incineration are too great for our populated and heavily polluted area," said City Manager Jesse Duff.
"Now that the local problem is solved," he said, "the city feels an obligation to assist other groups in their opposition to mass-burn incinerators."
Duff said his city of 20,000, which was more active than any other San Gabriel Valley community in fighting the Irwindale plant, hired a part-time consultant to help it press its case and is willing to share the consultant's expertise--and expense--with others.
"But those cities would have to agree with our stand," Duff said. "There is no room for compromise."
The city's active role in fighting mass-burn incineration projects as far away as San Diego and Ontario began more than two years ago, when residents became worried about plans by Pacific Waste Management Inc. to build a 3,000-ton-a-day trash burner in Irwindale, within half a mile of Duarte city limits.
Residents began calling City Hall to voice concern about the project, and officials began gathering information. Duarte was one of the first cities in the area to formally oppose the Irwindale plant. The City Council voted to take a stand against it in August, 1985, and eight months later, voters elected two political neophytes who had strongly opposed the plant, upsetting longtime council incumbents.
Duff, who was deputy city manager at the time, coordinated the city's fight against the plant. When he was named interim city manager last January, he recalled, "it was obvious that with the time I had been spending on waste-to-energy, I couldn't also administer the city.
"The situation in Irwindale was at a crucial point, and I asked the council if I could have a consultant on an hourly basis," Duff said.
In January, Duarte hired Terry Fitzgerald, an attorney and former Claremont City Council member, as a part-time consultant to work against the plant.
Pacific Waste withdrew its application to the state Energy Commission in April. The firm vowed to come back with plans for a scaled-down plant, but has yet to make a formal proposal.
Duff said that, as far as he knows, Duarte is the only city of its size that has a paid consultant on a single issue.
"Terry was my immediate choice because early in the process I felt like we were out there alone," he said. "Other cities were not listening to us, except for her lone voice in Claremont.
"I was looking for somebody familiar with the situation and all the printed material related to it. I felt confident that she could step right in.
"We have so many technical reports that we needed someone to interpret them to the public. Terry understands all the governmental agencies and regulatory boards, and she has the ability to ask the right questions of the technical people."
Fitzgerald, 39, said she became interested in the pollution problem when she moved from Chicago to Claremont in 1979.
Fitzgerald was a member of the Claremont Environmental Quality Commission when she ran successfully for the City Council in 1982. Although she lost her bid for reelection in 1986, she continued her opposition to the Irwindale plant.
"I had done political consulting, so I was familiar with how state agencies work," she said.
When she began her $30-an-hour job in Duarte, she spent most of her time attending hearings on the Irwindale plant or coordinating the attendance of the city's elected officials.
Now she attends hearings on two other proposed plants in the San Gabriel Valley--at Puente Hills landfill and Spadra landfill in Pomona--and helps individuals formulate effective means of protesting mass-incineration projects.
Fitzgerald is also helping Duarte find alternatives to incineration or new landfills.
Duarte plans to start a recycling program in the fall, Fitzgerald said, and is considering three tentative proposals for mechanical trash separation and processing plants.
"Duarte recognizes that there is a pending crisis in area waste disposal, which must be solved," Duff said.
"If local governments do not pursue safe alternatives, then they may be forced to accept incineration or new landfills."