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Study Under Way on Hauling Trash to Desert by Rail

August 16, 1987|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

The Southern California Assn. of Governments has begun a study to find out if it is feasible to haul trash by rail from the San Gabriel Valley to disposal sites in remote desert areas.

Gill V. Hicks, who is heading the study for the regional planning agency, said the first phase, compiling information about the area's future trash disposal needs, will be completed by the end of this month.

But it will take until March, he said, to finish the work, pinpointing potential sites for loading trash onto trains, finding remote areas that would accept the trash, analyzing costs, examining the environmental impact and outlining steps to implement such a plan.

Feasibility Study

The study will help San Gabriel Valley cities decide whether it is economically, environmentally and politically feasible to send trash to remote areas. And it would give homeowners their first solid information about how much higher their trash bills would have to be to pay for remote disposal.

The study was initiated by the solid waste task force of the San Gabriel Valley Assn. of Cities, which began exploring disposal alternatives after proposals to build giant incineration plants ran into strong public opposition, based on fears that burning trash in the smoggy San Gabriel Valley would exacerbate air quality problems and threaten public health.

Walnut Mayor Harvey Holden, who heads the task force, said the idea of loading trash onto trains bound for the desert seemed farfetched when it was first proposed for the San Gabriel Valley more than a year ago.

"Everybody was chuckling," Holden said, but "they aren't chuckling now," when the concept seems much more feasible.

Not only has opposition to incinerators intensified, stimulating a search for alternatives, but some desert communities have indicated a willingness to consider accepting outside trash. Railroads have shown interest in hauling it, and a few entrepreneurial companies have begun looking into ways of making the process profitable.

Contributions Pour In

The rail study will cost $135,000. The Southern California Assn. of Governments has contributed $30,000 and the state Waste Management Board $25,000. The remaining $80,000 is being solicited from 28 cities. By the end of last week, 22 cities had offered to contribute nearly $72,000.

So far, Alhambra, Azusa, Baldwin Park, Claremont, Covina, Duarte, El Monte, Glendora, Industry, La Puente, La Verne, Monterey Park, Monrovia, Pasadena, Pomona, Rosemead, San Dimas, San Marino, South El Monte, Temple City, Walnut and West Covina have agreed to participate.

Even if the study shows that rail-haul is impractical, Holden said, the project will have been worthwhile because attention can then be focused on other options. The task force has been looking at recycling and composting as partial solutions to the trash disposal problem.

Officials of the county Sanitation Districts have said the county will run out of places to put trash in about six years unless new disposal facilities are developed.

Hicks said cities along the rail lines and counties and cities that might serve as host disposal sites will be consulted during the study. At least one station would have to be established in the San Gabriel Valley for loading trash onto trains. The only site suggested so far, Hicks said, is in Irwindale.

Although trash could also be hauled to remote areas by truck, Hicks said the study will look only at rail shipment, which is considered cheaper over long distances.

Southern Pacific and Santa Fe rail lines cross the San Gabriel Valley. Hicks said the railroads are interested in hauling trash, seeing it as a potential new source of business.

Another company interested in the proposal, he said, is Kaiser Steel Co., which has been looking into the possibility of dumping trash into its closed iron ore mine at Eagle Mountain in Riverside County, midway between Blythe and Indio.

Hicks also noted that the City of Blythe and Imperial County have expressed interest in receiving trash.

Imperial County supervisors last month passed a resolution declaring that there is a dire need for new trash disposal facilities in Southern California, that potential sites exist in sparsely populated areas of Imperial County and that hauling trash by rail is possible.

The resolution invites anyone with proposals to develop trash disposal facilities to submit them to the county. It says the supervisors would insist on final approval of any project, would require careful environmental review and would insist that the county receive "adequate compensation."

Harry Orfanos, Imperial County public works director, said the resolution was prompted by officials from Railway Waste Management Inc. of Rosemead, who suggested that trash might be hauled to a location along a Southern Pacific line near Niland, about 20 miles east of the Salton Sea. But, Orfanos said, no firm proposal has been submitted to the board.

Another company, CMRR Inc., has proposed hauling trash to Blythe, a desert community on the California-Arizona border. Originally, the plan called for hauling trash to an industrial center near Blythe, where recyclable materials would be segregated and other trash would be burned as an industrial fuel.

Since then, CMRR has been working with Duarte, Azusa and other cities on a proposal for a local plant that would separate recyclable materials, use grass clippings and other materials for composting and bale much of the remaining trash for shipment to industrial plants in Blythe or other remote areas, where it would be burned as fuel.

Some Blythe officials have said they favor the project if they can be shown that it would contribute to the local economy without harming the environment.

Hicks said CMRR and other companies will be invited to provide information for the waste-by-rail study.

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