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Military Heeds Protests : Trucking of Rocket Fuel Via L. A. Halted

October 18, 1987|SAM ENRIQUEZ and ALAN C. MILLER | Times Staff Writers

After protests from elected officials, the Department of Defense has agreed to halt shipments of highly toxic rocket fuel through the city of Los Angeles.

Mayor Tom Bradley told a news conference that federal officials have agreed to reroute rocket-fuel shipments from congested metropolitan freeways to less-populated desert areas north of Los Angeles County.

City officials learned last month that, for several years, rocket fuel bound for Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc has been shipped by truck on the Ventura Freeway through the densely populated San Fernando Valley.

Can Be Fatal

The Department of Defense agreed to halt shipments through the city of four fuel components, including nitrogen tetroxide, which can be fatal if inhaled. The agreement, developed with federal officials and representatives of the mayor's office, the California Highway Patrol and city police and fire departments, will "ensure protection for the lives and safety of Los Angeles residents," Bradley said Tuesday.

In a letter to Bradley, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense John A. Mittino said the Department of Defense agreed that "shipments consigned to destinations not within the City of Los Angeles will be routed to avoid transiting through Los Angeles."

The Air Force had been shipping truckloads of the rocket fuel along freeways passing through the San Gabriel Valley, Glendale and the San Fernando Valley on the way from out-of-state manufacturers to Vandenberg, where the fuel is used to launch military rockets.

The Air Force agreed last month to a 60-day moratorium on all rocket-fuel shipments while city officials negotiated for changes in the controversial freeway routes.

Desert Highways

Now, trucking companies under contract with the Air Force will transport the rocket fuel along desert highways, probably through the cities of Barstow and Mojave, CHP officials said.

The agreement also calls for shipping companies to provide Los Angeles police and fire officials with four hours' notice when rocket fuels are shipped to aerospace and defense contractors in the city, Bradley said. The Department of Defense also has agreed to limit those shipments to between 7 and 10 p.m., he said.

City officials said they are uncertain how much of the fuel is shipped to users in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the CHP plans to remove the Glendale and Ventura freeways from its list of approved routes for the transportation of explosives, including rocket fuel.

Responding to concerns of local officials, the CHP is acting because construction is scheduled to begin shortly in densely populated areas to widen the Ventura Freeway through the San Fernando Valley, as well as through Santa Barbara, said CHP Commissioner James E. Smith. He said construction will continue for seven years.

The CHP has recommended that rocket fuel destined for Vandenberg be shipped along California 58 out of Barstow and continue west on California 223, south on California 99, west on California 166, south on U. S. 101 near Santa Maria and west on California 135 to Vandenberg, CHP spokesman Kent Milton said.

Possible Hearings

He added that this route will probably be approved on an emergency basis but then undergo further evaluation, possibly including public hearings, before becoming a permanent alternative.

Air Force officials said they expect 25 to 27 more truckloads of rocket fuel to be shipped to Vandenberg during the next year. There have been 12 rocket-fuel shipments in the last 21 months, Vandenberg officials said.

Since disclosure of the rocket-fuel shipments, several city and state officials and Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) called for the federal government to divert the potentially deadly cargo from congested metropolitan areas. Los Angeles officials whose job is to deal with emergencies said they had not been notified of the fuel shipments.

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