Although the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has delayed action until mid-November, Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) said there is little doubt that the agency will build a leachate treatment plant at the Operating Industries landfill in Monterey Park.
Martinez said the agency seems determined to build the plant on the 45-acre portion of the dump north of the Pomona Freeway, even though neighboring residents want the EPA to continue hauling the leachate away rather than treating it at the site.
EPA spokesman Terry Wilson said the agency had planned to announce a decision to build the plant this week, but deferred action after Monterey Park and Montebello officials asked for time to analyze EPA data supporting the decision. The postponement came after a meeting at Monterey Park City Hall on Monday attended by Martinez, EPA staff members from San Francisco and Washington and representatives of Montebello and Monterey Park.
Martinez said he doubts that the delay will change the decision.
EPA officials have "skewed the numbers to build a case for themselves," Martinez said. "I don't think they have open minds."
Leachate, sometimes called "garbage juice," comes from rainwater and other liquids that have passed through trash, picking up metals, chemical compounds, oil, grease and other contaminants. The proposed plant would remove toxins and solids from the leachate and dispose of the remaining liquid through sewers.
Currently, 4,000 to 6,000 gallons of leachate are trucked daily from the Operating Industries dump to a treatment plant in Vernon. EPA officials say that the amount of leachate will increase to 10,000 gallons a day as cleanup work continues at the dump, which has been closed since 1984, and that an on-site plant would be cheaper and more reliable.
The EPA says it would cost $4.6 million to build the plant and operate it for five years, compared to $1.6 million a year to transport and treat 10,000 gallons a day off site.
Martinez said the EPA really does not know how much leachate is in the dump and should not build a treatment plant until the need for it is clear. But Wilson said EPA staff members have been studying the site for a long time and are confident about their leachate projections.
Montebello City Administrator Joseph Goeden said the amount of leachate has declined from 30,000 gallons daily to less than 6,000. He said the EPA has not shared with local officials any data supporting their prediction that leachate will increase back to 10,000 gallons.
"We want to make sure (the leachate plant) is needed before it gets built," Goeden said.
The danger from leachate is that it may flow into the underground water supply, contaminating wells.
Goeden said that if leachate is not seeping out of the bottom of the dump, it could possibly be contained there rather than removed for treatment. If a leachate treatment plant must be built, he said, Montebello officials want it constructed on the north side of the Pomona Freeway, far from their residents. Although the dump is in Monterey Park, the nearest homes are in Montebello.
The plant site favored by Montebello and the EPA is opposed by Monterey Park, which had hoped to develop an office and retail center there. The 45 acres north of the freeway are less contaminated than the remainder of the dump and were put on the federal Superfund cleanup list last year over the objections of Monterey Park, which had planned a $60-million commercial project there.
Martinez said that instead of building a leachate treatment plant, the EPA should be working to clear the 45 acres so that the property can be sold to a developer, generating revenue to clean up the rest of the dump.
Monterey Park City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said his city is working with Montebello and EPA officials to find a solution acceptable to all.
While the leachate treatment plant would require only an acre and a half, the EPA is also studying the need for a methane gas recovery plant, which could be put next to the leachate plant. The two plants together could take five to 10 acres.
Wilson said the EPA has not decided how leachate from other parts of the dump would be carried across the Pomona Freeway to the plant. Pipes could be placed either under the freeway or over it, he said.
Martinez said carrying leachate across the freeway strikes him as dangerous. "Pipes can crack," he said.
Monterey Park Councilman Chris Houseman said that by transporting leachate from one side of the freeway to the other, EPA would be widening the area of hazardous waste when it should be working to reduce it. In addition, Houseman fears that leachate from outside the dump will be brought to Monterey Park for treatment.
EPA officials have repeatedly said that the plant would treat only leachate from the landfill and that it would be dismantled and sold once the dump is cleaned up.
But Houseman said that if a neighboring community developed a need to treat leachate, there would be great pressure to send it to Monterey Park, and the city could become "the leachate capital."