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State Missed Review Date on Disney Toxic Issues

September 26, 2000|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — State water officials have concerns over possible toxic contamination at the proposed $2-billion Disney Creative Campus, but missed a deadline to raise objections because they never saw the environmental documents, an official said Monday.

The city of Glendale released the draft environmental impact report on the project July 6, triggering a comment period for the public and other agencies that ended Sept. 5. But officials with the Regional Water Quality Control Board didn't see the EIR until Friday, said Dixon Oriola, a senior engineer with the board.

Oriola said the report was apparently misrouted to another division in his agency.

"The EIR was sent to the the board, but it took a while to locate the document," Oriola said. "We have 10 different divisions and it was sent to the wrong one."

Now that the right people in the agency have had a chance to look at the report, he said, there are concerns that the EIR may not have adequately addressed the cleanup of soil and groundwater contamination at the 125-acre site, which has been used as an industrial park since the early 1960s.

Oriola said the state may seek more time to review and respond to the EIR.

"We are still looking at the site and will comment later on an appropriate course of action or on mitigating the contamination," Oriola said. "The area is the subject of an ongoing federal and state Superfund investigation."

The heavily industrialized east San Fernando Valley--including parts of Burbank, Glendale and North Hollywood--was declared a Superfund cleanup site in 1986 because of soil and groundwater contamination.

Glendale Redevelopment Director Jeanne Armstrong said she had planned to have the final EIR--addressing all comments raised during the two-month public comment period--completed by next week.

"If the water quality control board has additional water and soil concerns, they need to raise those issues with us immediately," Armstrong said Monday.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control had previously raised concerns of toxic contamination on the property.

In a Sept. 5 letter to Armstrong, the agency said the draft EIR did not identify all of the potential contamination sites on the property.

"The draft EIR needs to address those sites that may require further investigation, and to determine if they pose a threat to the public health or the environment," Sayareh Amir, chief of the Southern California Cleanup Operations Branch of the toxic control agency, wrote in the letter.

The Disney project, which was first made public in September 1999, includes plans for a "high-tech hub" to be built during the next three decades in east Glendale near the Golden State Freeway.

Disney currently owns 2.4 million square feet at the site, which is bordered by Western Avenue, Flower Street, Air Way and the Golden State Freeway. Plans call for as much as 6 million square feet of offices, sound stages and studio-production facilities.

Besides a new media division, the Disney campus will be anchored by Walt Disney Imagineering, the research and development arm of the company that designs theme park rides and other attractions.

In their pitch to residents and civic leaders, Disney executives have sought to portray a neighborhood-friendly development of four distinctive areas with green spaces and four- to six-story buildings that would be an economic boon to the city.

But since the release of a four-volume, 2,000-plus-page draft EIR report in July, the Glendale City Council has drawn criticism from some neighboring residents who contend Glendale political leaders have been trying to rush approval of the Disney project at the expense of concerns over issues such as seismic hazards and toxic contamination.

Those concerns have been heightened in recent weeks following stories in The Times reporting increasing levels of chromium 6 in area drinking water.

"There's an alphabet soup of toxic chemicals . . . on the Disney site," said homeowner Rob Sharkey. "The regional board and others should be taking a much closer look at this."

State water quality officials say the Disney site includes a toxic brew of contaminants, including volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as chromium 6.

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