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Mayors Back Bid for Sewage Exemption


In its push to exempt the giant Carson sewage plant from tighter treatment standards, the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County has drawn blistering fire from environmentalists and assorted state and federal legislators.

But not from South Bay mayors, the vast majority of whom support an exemption for the sewage agency.

The mayors cite environmental and financial concerns as grounds for supporting the agency's request for a waiver from rules requiring intensified treatment of the 380 million gallons of sewage the plant pumps into the ocean each day.

They balk at the estimated $350 million the project would cost local ratepayers and say further filtering of effluent could indirectly aggravate DDT contamination in the plant's dumping area off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

"I'm convinced that forcing [more intensive] treatment is a giant waste of a taxpayers' dollars and threatens to do far more harm to the environment than it would help," Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Mel Hughes said, echoing the positions of numerous South Bay mayors.

Such backing could prove important in the sanitation districts' battle with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has tentatively ruled against the waiver request and is preparing to make a final decision.

South Bay mayors have seats on two of the 27 local governing boards of the sanitation districts, which uses the Carson plant off the Harbor Freeway to serve an area stretching from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Pomona.

Officials with the sanitation agency say they have not decided whether to seek authority to fight the EPA in court if the agency rules against them. But so far, they say, their point of view has received solid backing from the cities served by the agency, including those in the South Bay.

"These people have listened to the facts, and they believe us," Bob Miele , head of technical services at the sanitation districts, said Tuesday. "Right now we have the strong support of our cities."

Federal regulations require sewage plants to provide full secondary treatment of waste, a system that removes at least 85% of solids. Environmentalists say the added treatment will help restore marine life damaged by pollutants, a view that has won support in Washington and Sacramento.

When the EPA announced its tentative ruling against the sanitation districts in January, U.S. Rep. Mel Levin (D-Santa Monica) praised the decision. "This is a very positive and significant decision for Santa Monica Bay,'" he said. "The EPA is showing its muscle by demonstrating they are not afraid to 'just say no' to polluters."

Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), in a letter delivered to the EPA on Monday, urged the agency to uphold that decision in its final ruling. "This decision will stop the annual dumping of more than 39,500 tons of hazardous sewage solids into our local marine environment," the letter said.

But the sanitation agency, which has been seeking an exemption from the federal clean water regulations for 11 years, considers full secondary treatment unnecessary and possibly dangerous.

That view was reflected last fall in non-binding votes by the agency's local governing boards. Only two South Bay board members, Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert and Redondo Beach Mayor Brad Parton, opposed a resolution endorsing the agency's waiver request.

Voting in favor were mayors or other officials from El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Lawndale, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills.

Support from South Bay cities was also apparent at an EPA hearing Monday in Torrance City Hall. Geissert was the sole South Bay city leader who spoke in favor of full secondary treatment at the Carson plant. Officials from Carson, Gardena and Lomita criticized the requirement.

Environmentalists say most South Bay mayors are poorly informed.

"They haven't heard another point of view," said Dorothy Green, president of Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica environmental group. "If their only source of information is the [sanitation districts'] staff, of course they're going to agree."

In interviews, numerous South Bay city leaders said they had serious concerns that upgrading treatment of ocean-bound effluent could indirectly expose DDT embedded in sediment off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Echoing arguments by sewage agency officials, they say that intensifying treatment would end the discharge of solids that have served to cover the DDT, which was pumped through the agency's sewage outfalls in the 1950s, '60s and early '70s.

And the effluent, they point out, already receives enough treatment to meet state pollution-control standards.

"I'm an environmentalist, but I also try to be reasonable," Gardena Mayor Donald Dear said. "I support the sanitation districts' position regarding the DDT."

Another concern is cost.

Sanitation districts officials say it would require $350 million to make the plant capable of providing full secondary treatment, the level required by federal law.

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