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Testing Nearly Done : Gardena Sees Progress on Sump Cleanup

August 20, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

The state Department of Health Services is expected to complete final testing of soil and underground water at a Gardena hazardous waste site this week in anticipation of its cleanup late next year.

The progress toward a cleanup is good news for the city, which is planning major commercial development of the land surrounding the site, and for nearby residents who have long considered it a dangerous eyesore.

Dennis Leonard, a state official overseeing testing at the so-called Gardena Sumps, said contaminants such as heavy metals, hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phenols and sulfur compounds may be present in the sumps--pits that were filled with oil wastes from 1930 to 1950.

"The current site investigation is designed to determine if these contaminants are present and if any off-site migration is occurring," Leonard said. Results of the tests, which began last week, are expected in about 60 days. The state agency will decide early next year how to clean up the site, and, depending on what is found, the actual cleanup is targeted to begin late next year.

Preliminary tests at the pits in 1982 found low levels of petroleum-related compounds but no contamination of drinking water. State officials said the pits may be lined with clay, which could be holding in the wastes. That would make the cleanup easier.

Cleanup of the fenced site will remove a problem that has long bothered city officials.

"It's always been more of an eyesore than a health hazard for the community," said Mayor Donald L. Dear of the three-acre site on the southwest corner of Artesia Boulevard and Normandie Avenue. "Of course, it will be healthy for the city to finally have that land developed."

City officials last week reached tentative agreement with state Department of Transportation officials for the city's purchase of about 27 acres along the north and south sides of Artesia Boulevard between Normandie and Vermont avenues, across Normandie from the sumps. The state had bought the land for the Artesia Freeway and is selling it now that there are no plans to extend the freeway west of the Harbor Freeway.

The city plans to sell the property to developer Alexander Haagen, who hopes to build a major retail center similar to the Manhattan Village Shopping Center and Mall in Manhattan Beach, which he opened in 1982.

Plans have not yet been submitted, and the City Council must still rezone the property from public use to commercial.

Development is also proposed on another corner of Artesia and Normandie, where Visions Development Co. has plans before the city for a three-story, 40,000-square-foot medical and professional office building, 36,000 square feet of retail space, an 8,000-square-foot restaurant and an 8,000-square-foot community center/gymnasium. The project is expected to be completed late next summer.

Ken Hirai, a spokesman for Visions Development in Gardena, said the company had some concerns about building across the street from the Gardena Sumps, but the results of the 1982 tests provided some comfort.

Still, Hirai said he is happy that the sumps may be cleaned up.

"I think it's great," he said. "It is a prime commercial spot in the city, and I think the community is finally going to get exactly what they want from the area: an eyesore removed and a commercial center going up that will be paying taxes into the city."

Betty Hinds, a spokeswoman for a group of homeowners on Cassidy Street across Normandie Avenue from the sumps, said she feels "guarded relief" that the site may be cleaned up.

"I hope it's real," Hinds said. "We have lived here for 26 years and we have been concerned about it. The health officials have told us there are no health hazards, but still it isn't pretty to look at and at times it doesn't smell very good."

Had Many Uses

The Gardena Sumps site was used for cattle grazing in the early 1920s. Then a brick manufacturing company was allowed to mine clay from the property from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. State health officials do not know how much clay was excavated or how deep the pits were dug, but estimate that they were 40 feet deep. In the 1940s the property owner allowed oil companies to dump waste oil sludges, rinse waters and acids there.

The current property owner, Thomas W. Cooper of Rancho Palos Verdes, said he bought the site in 1978 to recover the asphalt-like hydrocarbons in the sumps but has been unable to do so until the cleanup is begun. Cooper, a civil engineer, said he plans to sell the property rather than develop it after it is cleaned.

City Manager Kenneth Landau said he would like to see the site developed commercially to be compatible with surrounding developments.

Cleanups Scheduled

In 1983, the Gardena Sumps were among seven South Bay toxic wastes sites listed for cleanup by state health officials under a federally financed program. All of those sites have yet to be cleaned because of a lack of funds or incomplete testing.

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