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Hoag Memorial and Caltrans Streamline an Odorous Task

HEARD ON THE BEAT / HEALTH CARE

December 05, 1997|BARBARA MARSH | Barbara Marsh covers health care for The Times

You don't have to hold your nose anymore on Coast Highway near the Newport Boulevard overpass in Newport Beach.

Thanks to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Caltrans and better technology, the rotten-egg smell from a natural reservoir of methane gas there is mostly gone.

"We've gotten comments from a lot of people who have said, 'Wow! We haven't smelled it for a long time. Isn't that nice?' " says Peter Foulke, executive vice president of Hoag, whose grounds overlap the reservoir.

No less a feature of the Orange County coastline than oil rigs, the reservoir used to give off so much gas years ago that kids would light the stuff as it seeped through sidewalk cracks, he says. Seepage was reduced when a system of wells and pipes was built to collect the gas and burn it off via the 30-foot flame that passersby can see from the highway, he says.

But the system, which seems primitive by today's standards, never fully functioned and now has worn out. "When the flare blows out, we have to light it with a rag on the end of a stick," Foulke says.

Several months ago, Hoag eliminated most of the smell by turning up the vacuum on the older system. But it's also making permanent upgrades over the next few months. The project, expected to cost about $1.5 million, will be jointly funded by the hospital and Caltrans. Caltrans is involved because a significant amount of seepage occurs at West Coast Highway.

The improved system will include new gas scrubbers, monitoring equipment, valves, blowers and an automatic starter for the flame, which will no longer be visible from the road.

"I'm going to miss it," Foulke says, joking that he was a bit of a pyromaniac as a kid.

*

Barbara Marsh covers health care for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7762 and at barbara.marsh@latimes.com

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