DUARTE — Ten years ago, when city officials were beginning a redevelopment project to attract upscale residents to this community, they thought they had found a perfect location.
A small, private landfill in the northeastern part of the city had been filled to capacity and closed. The city bought the 30-acre landfill in 1978 and opened a nine-hole golf course on the site in 1982. About that time, a developer completed the last of 124 single-family homes around it.
But the idea does not seem quite so perfect now.
The state has ordered Duarte to pay for an estimated $100,000 in tests to determine if the groundwater under the former landfill, where solid wastes were dumped, is polluted.
In addition, the city faces fines of up to $1,000 a day for being late in sending a report to the Regional Water Quality Control Board on how the tests will be conducted. That report was due April 1.
"The City Council is upset that we are being asked to do this," City Manager Jesse Duff said. "We are not arguing the necessity of the work. We are arguing that we are not the ones who should pay for it."
State officials say Duarte must pay for the tests because the city owns the landfill site, but Duarte officials contend that the city is not responsible because it was never involved in the operation of the landfill.
The city intends to fight, but in the meantime has signed a $20,000 contract with an engineering company to prepare the report, which could take more than two months to complete.
Water control board officials said they have not decided whether to fine Duarte for noncompliance. The city could face as much as $155,000 in fines.
The landfill problem stems from the Solid Waste Assessment Tests Law, which was passed in 1984. Under the state law, operators of the 1,500 active and inactive landfills in the state were required to determine if hazardous wastes were leaking from the sites, said Robert Ghirelli, executive officer of the water control board.
"Because there are so many landfills, the law specified that 150 sites be tested each year," he said.
Ghirelli said landfills that have to be tested first are those in operation, while generally smaller landfills that were closed years ago receive lower priority. However, he said, the site in Duarte was placed on a high-priority list--known as Rank 2--because it is located in an area where there are problems with groundwater pollution.
"Those in Rank 1 had to file their final report by July 1," Ghirelli said, and those in Rank 2 were required to submit a proposal by April 1 outlining how they were going to conduct the investigation. The Rank 2 landfills have until July to file the final report, he said.
California-American Water Co. provides groundwater to Duarte from seven wells. An additional well was closed because of pollution.
"We monitor the wells monthly and no wells near the golf course show pollution, including one two blocks downhill," said Joe Minneci, district engineer for the water company.
City officials point out that the landfill has been closed since 1971 and that the city should not have to pay for the tests.
"The Regional (Water Quality Control) Board somehow in its wisdom has decided that the City of Duarte was the operator of the landfill and the City of Duarte was the owner of the landfill, therefore, the City of Duarte will prepare the . . . report," wrote city engineer Dwight French in a memorandum last month.
"The problem we face right now is that the Redevelopment Agency is the owner of the land . . . so we should proceed . . . under protest."
The former owner and operator of the landfill, Ralph Thorsen, died in 1979, one year after he sold the site to the city.
City and state records on the former landfill, at Las Lomas Road and Huntington Drive, are sketchy. The state lists it as the Fish Canyon landfill but it is known in Duarte as the Canyon Park landfill. It opened sometime between 1959 and 1965.
"Our big concern is that if the tests indicate a problem and it needs cleaning up, I imagine they (the state) still will look at us to do the work, and we can't afford it," Duff said.