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Incinerator Fears Halt Plant Study : Methanol Maker Might Burn Trash

July 19, 1987|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH EL MONTE — A proposal by a San Fernando firm to study the possibility of building a methanol-producing plant here--one that might also burn trash--has been put on hold as city officials try to quiet residents' concerns.

The study was approved earlier this month by the City Council, whose members hope that the firm, Applied Cogeneration, might offer a solution to trash disposal problems the city anticipates when nearby landfills reach capacity.

South El Monte's Solid Waste Advisory Committee, after spending three months weighing alternative methods of future trash disposal, also favored letting the firm conduct a feasibility study.

But after objections were raised at a special council meeting last week, Mayor Albert Perez said community meetings should be held to explain the proposed study because the public has become the victim of "misinformation and rumors." The council expects to schedule the meetings Thursday.

Fears of Pollution

At the special meeting last week, several residents said they were worried about a trash disposal operation, partly because it might contribute to air pollution and burn trash from areas outside the city.

Some opponents of waste-to-energy projects throughout the San Gabriel Valley said last week that they would fight any proposal that involves burning trash in South El Monte.

City officials said Applied Cogeneration had come to them with a proposal to study the possibility of burning trash in a methanol-producing plant.

Barney Klinger, president of the company, described methanol as a clean-burning fuel derived from coal and natural gas. He said that some of the methanol produced at the plant could be used to burn trash, but that it was not necessary to burn trash to produce methanol.

Trash incineration would be at most a secondary function at the plant, he said, and might not ever be undertaken.

"We're not even in the business of trash burning," Klinger said. "We're really in the methanol business. However, during our study we'll look at trash."

The study, to be paid for by the company, would center on such things as site availability, access to freeways and finances. Company officials said the study could take up to a year and cost about $150,000.

Study in Vernon

Klinger said his company wants to study several other communities as possible sites for producing methanol. One such study is under way in Vernon for a larger plant than the one being considered in South El Monte, Klinger said.

"While we're doing that (South El Monte study), we'll be making a study on how best for the community to dispose of their trash. That would be incidental to the business we're in," which is to produce methanol, Klinger said.

Councilman Jim Kelly, who heads the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said the plant under consideration could save the city $500,000 a year by providing a cheaper source of power for utilities.

Kelly and Klinger agreed that Klinger's discussions with the city have focused on a plant that could burn 500 tons of garbage a day "in order to be profitable," Klinger said. Since South El Monte produces an estimated 250 tons of garbage daily, a trash-burning facility might involve bringing in garbage from other places, they said.

Kelly said the council "overreacted" in calling for the community meetings. "The advisory committee was unanimous for the study," he said.

But former Mayor John D. Gonzales wrote to the council calling the study "an asinine idea" and saying that the plant would "add, not decrease, pollutants in the air."

Seeking Support

Gonzales last week sought support from groups that have successfully fought waste-to-energy plants proposed throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

The proposal for a waste-to-energy plant at the Spadra landfill in Pomona may be scrapped this week by the county Sanitation Districts after strong opposition from a number of San Gabriel Valley cities.

If that happens, it will be the fourth major waste-to-energy plant to be defeated in the valley. In April, the state Energy Commission rejected a proposal for an incinerator in Irwindale that would have burned up to 3,000 tons of trash a day. In 1986, a company withdrew a plan to build a waste-to-energy plant in Azusa that would have burned up to 2,000 tons of trash a day, and another firm gave up on a plan to build a toxic waste incinerator in Irwindale.

Wil Baca, an activist in many of the anti-burning battles who has vowed to fight any trash burner in South El Monte, called the proposed study "one of those things where they offer the moon without saying what they're after. But if you burn waste, you're going to produce pollutants."

Baca called the proposal "another case of a person coming into a town saying he has a viable magic machine. But I suspect this is not viable."

'Last Thing We Need'

Terry Fitzgerald, a consultant on waste disposal matters for the city of Duarte, said that although she had not heard of the proposed study, "the question becomes: If they are going to produce methanol, are they going to burn it?"

Jeff Schenkel, another opponent of waste-burning plants, said: "In the wake of the Irwindale and Spadra battles, the last thing we need is another company moving into our area to propose such a concept at this time. We are firmly opposed to any form of garbage burning in this basin."

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