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Foes Turn Up the Heat on Azusa Dump

August 06, 1989|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

San Gabriel Valley water officials have renewed efforts to force an Azusa landfill out of business, despite an offer by the dump's owners to improve a proposed ground-water protection system.

Attorney Bryant C. Danner and engineering consultant Rudy Bonaparte outlined the Azusa Land Reclamation Co. plan at a meeting of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster board last week. But their offer--to install a second plastic liner and drainage system under the dump as added safeguards to an environmental protection plan already estimated to cost $55 million--failed to defuse the opposition.

Reginald Stone, who headed a board committee that studied the new plan, said the added protection does not alter the fact that "landfills should not be placed over any water basin." He said: "We are not convinced (the new plan) is fail-safe to perpetuity."

The Azusa landfill is in a pit that is being mined of sand and gravel and then filled with trash. Water officials contend that the soil is so porous that liquids could quickly seep into ground water if leaks developed. They have also complained that the new trash-disposal area proposed by the company is so deep in the pit that the trash might be reached by rising ground water.

Clay and Plastic Layers

Bonaparte told the watermaster board that a foot-thick layer of clay and two plastic liners would form a nearly impenetrable barrier between ground water and the trash, and that the liners would last for hundreds of years. Any liquid that might seep through would be an insignificant amount, mere "glass-fulls," he said. In addition, the plan includes an extensive liquid collection system, he said.

In November, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board authorized disposal operations in a new area of the dump. But the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, which manages area ground water, appealed the decision to the regional board's parent agency, the State Water Resources Control Board.

The staff of the state board sided with the watermaster, recommending that the regional decision be overturned. After a board meeting on the issue last month, a staff attorney suggested that Azusa Land Reclamation make a new effort to satisfy the objections raised by the watermaster.

"We were hoping that the two parties would find some common ground," said Craig M. Wilson, the water board's assistant chief counsel. That having apparently failed, Wilson said, the next step will be to take the matter to the state water board for a decision.

Disposal operations at the Azusa landfill are confined under current permits to 80 acres of the 302-acre dump site. Unless the company wins permits to dispose of trash in a new portion of the dump, it will be forced to close. Richard W. Spencer, the firm's district manager, said the existing disposal area will be full within a year at the current disposal rate of 1,500 tons of trash a day.

Azusa Land Reclamation, a subsidiary of one of the nation's largest waste management companies, Browning Ferris Industries, is seeking a permit from the state Waste Management Board to dispose of 6,000 tons of trash a day in the Azusa landfill. But that permit would be useless, unless the company also obtains the state water board's approval.

In his presentation to the watermaster board, Danner, the company's lawyer, urged water officials to take note of the county's landfill shortage and the fact that the Azusa landfill has been operating safely since it opened in 1960.

"We think this is a sound, environmentally safe operation," he said.

Danner said the environmental safeguards already approved by the regional board for the new disposal area are adequate. But the company is also offering to install a second plastic barrier and drainage system to allay concern about the danger if ground-water levels rise.

Alfred R. Wittig, a member of the watermaster board, said at the meeting that the company did "a fantastic sales job," but did not alleviate his fears about water pollution.

"The idea that drinking water should be at risk on the failure, or non-failure, of a plastic liner to me is unthinkable," he said.

Board member Donald Clark said: "I don't think we've heard anything different today than we've heard up to now. Our main concern is 'What if?' What if it leaks? What if it (the protection system) doesn't work? Once it leaks, the damage is instant."

The ground water under the dump is part of a basin that supplies drinking water to one million people. Parts of the basin, including the area around the dump, are contaminated with carcinogenic chemical compounds. The sources of the contamination are uncertain.

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