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Scrap Metal Firm's Lease Creates a Ruckus

August 25, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wilmington boat owner Claire Randall used to clean her 39-foot trimaran with a magnet. She would pick up tiny metal filings from her deck every time the scrap metal company a few hundred feet across the water loaded a ship.

And she recently bought earplugs to help block the noise made by Hugo Neu-Proler's operations at all times of the day and night.

For two years, Randall and the L.A. Harbor Boatowners Assn. have been battling Hugo, the nation's biggest buyer and recycler of cars, refrigerators and other metal discards.

Now, Hugo's 27-year lease is up for renewal by the Port of Los Angeles at the end of the month, and boat owners are pressuring port officials to require noise reduction in the new lease.

The company has made efforts to curb the airborne dust and metal debris that travel from its operations on Terminal Island to neighbors in the Wilmington marinas, Randall said.

But boat owners say Hugo still creates deafening noise when it loads scrap metal into cargo ships 35 to 40 times a year because its outdated equipment cannot load cargo quietly, Randall said.

"You're asleep at one in the morning when bang . . . it's almost indescribable," she said. "It's so loud it invades your thoughts."

The boat owners want Hugo to buy a modern crane that places metal cargo, rather than sending it by conveyor belt to crash and clang into the metal hulls, Randall said.

"The other (companies) around have spent millions just to operate legally in the port. Hugo could operate legally if they invest in the new loading equipment," she said.

The city's noise regulation, however, does not seem to include a specific noise limit for properties such as Hugo that are zoned heaviest industrial and are not near a residential zone.

Hugo officials will not commit to purchasing the new, expensive equipment, but say they will continue to look at ways to decrease the noise heard by boat owners.

"We're looking at different loading systems," said Hugo General Manager John E. Prudent. "Overall, the noise is a tough issue."

Noise monitored at the property in March, 1993 reached up to 86.9 decibels during ship loading. An ambulance siren at 100 feet typically reaches 100 decibels.

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Prudent said the company has added sound-deadening materials to portions of its loader and wants to build a wall around the property. And it may eventually introduce quieter loading systems, but the new equipment will cost as much as $2 million, he said.

"We've done a lot of work here, and we've got a lot of work to do yet," he said. "I want this to be a world-class facility that not only are we proud of, but that our neighbors can be proud of too."

Hugo has been cited dozens of times by several agencies--including the Los Angeles County Fire Department's hazardous waste unit and the California Environmental Protection Agency--for environmental infractions over the years. The violations range from allowing metal dust and debris containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to blow into the harbor to stockpiling contaminated dirt.

The company still is under investigation by Cal/EPA's Department of Toxic Substances Control and the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Hugo disputed some of the citations, but agreed to install water spray systems and canvases on its machinery to control dust. It also paved 60% of its 26-acre site to make operations cleaner and prevent metal contaminants from soaking into the soil. It has also filed a remedial action plan with the water board.

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Port officials say they will hold Hugo to environmental regulations by writing stringent provisions into a new lease.

Many of the company's past and present environmental concerns will be scrutinized in an environmental report, which the port plans to release for public comment by October, said Mark Richter assistant director of the port's property management division.

"Anything they should be doing to mitigate dust or noise will be incorporated as well as a performance schedule to accomplish those," Richter said.

The port also recently insisted that Hugo place $10 million in an escrow account to guarantee that environmental regulations are met.

"We are very sensitive here about contamination issues because we've been stuck with some big cleanup bills," port environmental scientist Dennis Hagner said.

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