Entrance to Scholl Canyon dump by Figueroa St in Los Angles. Photo by T. A. Hendrickson

NELA Residents and L.A. Officials Object to Glendale’s Plan for Scholl Canyon

2020 Editions Front Page Health & Fitness October

By Eliot Brody and T. A. Hendrickson

A new phase has begun in the long conflict between Glendale and Eagle Rock over the Scholl Canyon landfill, which is owned and operated by Glendale in the hills above Eagle Rock. 

The new phase started on September 30, when the public comment period closed on a plan by Glendale Water & Power to build a biogas power plant at the landfill. The power plant, described in GWP’s draft environmental impact report, is intended to convert methane from decaying garbage into energy.

Residents and environmental activists in Glendale and Eagle Rock have filed comments raising alarms about pollution from the proposed plant, including air pollution, water contamination, noise and glare. The comments have also raised concerns about the ways in which a power plant in the hills could amplify the already significant risks to the area from fires and earthquakes. Another theme in several letters is that GWP has failed in the DEIR to adequately consider alternatives to building a biogas power plant.

 “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 a letter on behalf of the Coalition for Scholl Landfill Alternatives (CSLA), an environmental group. “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.”

Another concern expressed by many activists is that by pushing to build a biogas plant, Glendale is squandering an opportunity to transition to cleaner, more cutting-edge energy technologies, said Kate Unger, a leader in the Glendale Environmental Coalition, an advocacy group.  

Public comment letters have also been filed by Council District 14, the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation (LASAN) and CD 14 Councilmember-elect Kevin de León. 

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. According to De León, the focus should be on reducing air and noise pollution, reducing garbage and greenhouse emissions and fostering collaboration between cities on clean energy projects. 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.

This is an updated version of a story by Eliot Brody that appeared in The Occidental, the campus newspaper of Occidental College.

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T.A. Hendrickson, a native of Eagle Rock, is the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel and a former member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times.