Los Angeles officials have revived a controversial plan backed by a well-connected and persistent City Hall lobbyist to dump garbage and sewage sludge together and let the noxious mixture slowly decompose into compost material suitable for public use.
The co-compost idea, the pet project of lobbyist Joaquin Acosta Jr., would not take the place of landfills and other ways of getting rid of the city's most abundant wastes, but if the process works, it could help stave off a trash-disposal crisis, city sanitation officials said.
However, the co-compost project already has a long history in Los Angeles and has yet to win wide support despite a series of legislative actions in Acosta's favor.
Plan to Build Plant
The latest incarnation of the Acosta plan is to build a co-compost plant, using Austrian technology, on land owned by the city at Los Angeles International Airport near the Hyperion sewage treatment plant where the sludge is processed, city sanitation officials said Wednesday.
A delegation of five city officials, including a representative of Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, is scheduled to leave Saturday on a week long trip to Austria and Delaware to inspect working co-composting operations.
Galanter represents the airport area, and sanitation officials said she is willing to back the project if it appears that the co-compost process is a workable, environmentally safe way to help get rid of the city's two most abundant wastes.
However, as early as 1984 the City Council ordered city executives to begin negotiating with Acosta for a $47-million co-compost plant in San Pedro. The council endorsed Acosta's plan despite a report by the city administrative office that the cost would be too much.
Stalled by Objections
Negotiations bogged down after San Pedro residents and the local councilwoman, Joan Milke Flores, objected. A top official of the Bureau of Sanitation and an analyst for the city administrative office went to Sweden to inspect a working plant. "We observed odors," Mike Miller, the top sanitation official, recalled Wednesday.
Later Acosta began talking to city officials about a site in South-Central Los Angeles, but officials said they did not feel Acosta could guarantee the financial arrangements or ensure there was a market for the compost material.
However, late last year Acosta renewed his contact with city officials. He offered a process that was different than the one Miller inspected in Sweden, officials said. The new co-compost process was developed in Austria, and Acosta told officials he had financial backing and was ready to go.
City officials have been reluctant to pursue the Acosta plan in part because of reports that there is no market for the compost material produced by the decomposing process.
However, Acosta has in recent years persuaded the state Legislature to pass two laws that could eventually provide a market for the compost material. One bill, by state Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), ordered state agencies to use the material in place of other products if the cost was competitive.
Last year, another law sponsored by Sen. William A. Craven (R-Oceanside) directed the state Waste Management Board to begin studies of ways that state agencies can use the compost material. The compost can be used as fertilizer or as the building material for freeway sound barrier walls, Acosta has said.
Sanitation officials, while still not sure the process will work, said Wednesday that they will be happy to embrace co-composting if it will help to head off a shortage of space to dispose of trash in Los Angeles County.
An unusual joint study by the city and county of Los Angeles released Wednesday concluded that by 1991 the county will produce more trash a day than can be taken each day by remaining landfills. By 1995, the report said, the county will run completely out of landfill space without a major effort on recycling and opening new landfills.