By Eliot Brody and T. A. Hendrickson
This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect additional public comments submitted on the Scholl Canyon proposal.
A spokesperson for Glendale Water & Power has told the Boulevard Sentinel that it will likely take most of the rest of this year to read and prepare responses to public comments on its proposal to build a biogas power plant at the Scholl Canyon landfill in the hills above Eagle Rock. The power plant, described in GWP’s draft environmental impact report (DEIR), is intended to convert methane from decaying garbage into energy.
The spokesperson described the comment-review process as “rather arduous” — and it’s not hard to see why. Letters submitted by residents and environmental activists in Eagle Rock and Glendale reflect an organized, detailed and high-level opposition to the power plant proposal.
The East Area Progressive Democrats, a Democratic club that has led many fights against health and safety hazards emanating from Scholl Canyon, wrote that the DEIR has “disaqualifying defects” in at least three areas: It denies the severe fire danger to residents in Eagle Rock and Glendale from building a power plant in the hills. It gives short shrift to specific, cutting-edge technology that could prove to be a cleaner, safer alternative to a biogas plant. And it refuses to commit to closing the landfill. “Is this bid to build an unnecessary gas plant a backdoor path to prolonging dumping at the site?” the letter asks.
Hans Johnson, the president of EADP, told the Sentinel in an email that “our communities deserve better” than what GWP has proposed, adding that the battles over Scholl Canyon are fights “to protect our safety, our lungs, and our lives.”
A letter by the Coalition for Scholl Landfill Alternatives, an environmental group, zeroed in the fire risk of building a power plant at Scholl Canyon. “Any discussion of the future of the landfill, due to its location in a designated very high fire zone, must have fire prevention and safety at the forefront,” wrote Marla Nelson of Glendale and Eileen Hatrick of Eagle Rock, in the CSLA letter. “The wildfire plan [in GWP’s proposal] minimizes the danger and carelessly assumes that an on-site water tank and a fire department more than five miles away are sufficient.”
A letter by the Glendale Environmental Coalition (GEC), an advocacy group, criticized the lack of information in the DEIR about alternatives to building a biogas plant. “The city [Glendale] and community need more information about alternatives to allow side-by-side comparison of environmental and health impacts of alternatives beyond the proposed project,” said Kate Unger, a member of GEC’s steering committee, summarizing GEC’s letter.
Public comment letters have also been filed by Council District 14, the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation (LASAN) and CD 14 Councilmember Kevin de León. (The letter from De León was filed on September 30, when he was still Councilmember-elect.)
In general, the letters from L.A. officials take issue with what they see as a failure by Glendale to provide a thorough analysis of the biogas project, including ways to deal with methane that don’t involve building a power plant at the landfill.
The letter from CD 14 says that GWP tailored its analysis solely to justify building the biogas plant and is deficient in its discussion of potentially cleaner technologies. (The CD 14 letter was signed by Sharon Tso, the city’s chief legislative analyst who was appointed “caretaker” of the district following the indictment in July of Councilmember José Huizar on federal corruption charges.)
The letter from LASAN echoes the CD 14 letter but goes into greater technical detail. For instance, LASAN says that GWP inexplicably omitted possible health impacts in Eagle Rock of toxic emissions from processing methane at Scholl Canyon. The omission is glaring because in 2018, GWP stopped processing methane at the Grayson power plant in Glendale because of health concerns over toxic emissions.
The LASAN letter, which was drafted in consultation with the L.A. City Attorney’s office, also says that GWP has ignored significant impacts of the biogas project by incorrectly claiming an exemption from disclosure rules. The impacts dismissed by GWP include noise, vibration, zoning violations and aesthetic flaws, including the proposed construction of a water tank on a primary hilltop ridgeline. The upshot, according to LASAN, is that GWP’s report cannot be used as a basis for deciding how best to process methane from Scholl Canyon.
The De León letter says that GWP is more concerned with protecting the revenues from Scholl Canyon than in the health and safety of nearby residents. To meet today’s energy and environmental needs, the focus must be on reducing air and noise pollution, reducing garbage and greenhouse emissions and fostering collaboration between cities on clean energy projects, wrote De León. Building a biogas plant at Scholl Canyon goes against all that, he wrote.
At GWP, Environmental Program Administrator Maurice Oillataguerre said that all public comments would be addressed in the final environmental impact report, expected in early 2021.
Oillataguerre also said that GWP wanted “as much community engagement as possible,” pointing out that the recent public comment period had been open for 90 days, rather than the customary 45-days.
“As far as what we’d like to do with the gas, we’d like to do the most efficient, the most beneficial use of that gas, that has the minimum or least amount of pollution, and is a reasonable cost that’s not going to quadruple our residents’ energy bill,” said Oillataguerre.
Those are reasonable goals. But clearly, many NELA residents, Glendale residents and L.A. officials are not buying what GWP has offered by way of achieving them.
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