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60-Day Halt on Trucking Toxic Fuel in L.A. Ordered

September 24, 1987|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Defense Department on Wednesday declared a 60-day moratorium on transporting highly toxic rocket fuel through several suburban cities and parts of Los Angeles after Mayor Tom Bradley registered strong objections over the once-secret shipments.

Bradley told a news conference that after round-the-clock discussions with his office, the Pentagon agreed to the freeze while alternate shipment routes to Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc are studied.

The Pentagon confirmed that the moratorium had been ordered but said that no shipments had been scheduled over the next 60 days anyway. Bradley said he had received assurances that no shipments will occur through Los Angeles even after the two-month freeze, but Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said no such guarantees were made.

Satisfying Requirements

"If a more acceptable route is identified that will satisfy the Department of Defense requirements, we will use it for future shipments," said John Mittino, deputy assistant secretary of defense, in a letter to Bradley.

William E. Bicker, a Bradley transportation consultant who helped negotiate the moratorium, later acknowledged that the Pentagon had made no firm rerouting commitments. But, Bicker said in an interview, he was told by another top Pentagon official that "we'll make every effort to get out of Los Angeles."

"That's about as strong an assurance as we can get," Bicker said.

Phebe Brown, a spokeswoman for the Kelly Air Force Base Logistics Center in San Antonio, Tex., said that no fuel shipments have been scheduled through Los Angeles over the next two months.

"However, if there is any kind of emergency, we would find alternate routing," she said.

The shipment freeze followed disclosures Sunday in The Times that toxic rocket fuel had been routinely trucked through Los Angeles and several nearby suburbs without local officials being notified. The current Los Angeles County routing is through the San Gabriel Valley; across Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank, and into portions of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley over busy U.S. 101.

The fuel, containing the deadly chemical nitrogen tetroxide, can be fatal if inhaled.

After the disclosures Tuesday, City Atty. James Hahn and City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky--both potential rivals to a 1989 Bradley reelection bid--proposed local or state legislation blocking shipments through Los Angeles. Bradley, asked whether he supported such attempts, issued a mild rejoinder at his two possible rivals without naming them.

'Legal Mandates'

"I think the positive way to deal with this is through discussions and the meetings that will take place in the next 60 days," Bradley said. "To go through some legal mandates that may not have meaning when you can accomplish the same thing through an agreement that comes out of conciliatory discussions, I would choose the latter."

Bradley said his office registered strong objections to the fuel shipments after learning about them but added that he did not demand an explanation as to why local officials had not been notified.

"I figured that if we talked about what we could do from this point on, that would be the most effective thing," Bradley explained.

Glendale Mayor Ginger Bremberg, meanwhile, said city officials have been attempting to verify whether the fuel shipments had passed through Glendale as stated in the Times articles.

"If they are indeed, doing this, we will urge or demand that they use alternative routes through remote areas," Bremberg said.

She added that such shipments should be made by rail.

Also contributing to this article were Times Staff Writers John Broder in Washington and Martha Willman in Glendale.

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