Parents Push Forward With ‘Big Dig’ Health Concerns

Parent Elizabeth Krider (left) explains what she thinks is the potential impact to children from the Devil’s Gate reservoir sediment removal project to La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Terry Walker at a recent joint-use committee meeting.
Parent Elizabeth Krider (left) explains what she thinks is the potential impact to children from the Devil’s Gate reservoir sediment removal project to La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Terry Walker at a recent joint-use committee meeting.

A group of La Cañada Unified School District parents is pressing to show the potential impact of the Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project to county, city and school officials, with emphasis on its concerns about pollution and health hazards that could be posed by trucks making hundreds of trips each day.
Parents such as Elizabeth Krider and Tamar Tujian want answers to their concerns regarding the project known as “The Big Dig.” The project includes an initial process of sediment removal from Hahamongna Watershed Park behind the dam to increase flood protection and restore habitat within the Arroyo Seco Watershed. Work on Phase 1 of the project is set to begin shortly after Thanksgiving.
Both parents recently met with two of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s staff members — Chris Perry and Steve Burger — and Brittany Barker, assistant civil engineer for the county Department of Public Works, to discuss the issues.
Tujian said her group — made up of some 15 parents — made a number of requests based on the premise that the project’s truck hauling schedule should be monitored in real time, including whether the vehicles conform to 2010 Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards and are following the mitigation plan, such as not sitting idle or queuing.
The parent group is planning to hold a community presentation meeting on Dec. 5, when it will explain all of the newer research compiled thus far, and also ask for more parental involvement based on teams with areas of expertise.
Tujian, in an email to The Outlook, said her group considers the truck schedule “aggressive.”
She said the county did not specifically agree to any of the mitigation measures requested by the parent group except for a preliminary analysis of traffic flow.
“We will continue to engage the county about our concerns as we explore all avenues that are available to us,” Tujian said.
In November 2017, the county Board of Supervisors approved a scaled-down project to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment. The project began after a nine-year process that included feedback from local residents, environmental groups, the cities of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena and the community of Altadena.
With work set to start in late November, parents and residents have again recently come forward to express their concern about potential health risks as diesel-powered trucks make 425 round trips per day next to some local schools. The opponents to that part of the plan take issue with the approval of trucks that only follow 2010 emission standards, and that there are not newer EPA standards to follow.
The portion of the project that will include truck traffic is set for November of next year, Lee said.
Dan Lafferty, an interim deputy director for L.A. County Public Works, said the county continues to look at ways to reduce the impact of the project while ensuring it will go forward.
“We’ve spent 10 years trying to accommodate and address those concerns and structures with the least amount of impacts,” Lafferty said. “To extend [the project further] extends the threat to the folks who live downstream. We’re trying to move the project forward and trying to make sure we address the needs of the community. We have done as much as we could.”
Lafferty said the EPA’s proposed 2010 standards for trucks will not go into effect until 2023 but contractors are being made to abide by those standards.
“It increases the costs but benefits the community,” Lafferty said. “[Contractors are] finding it difficult to find the number of vehicles to do that. … The fact that we’re requiring them is greater than the EPA [standard].”
Other suggestions, like using compressed natural gas trucks, would not be suitable for removing sediment from a reservoir, he said.
Kerjon Lee, spokesman for Public Works, said there are newer standards the EPA considered in 2016 but they have not been adopted yet. “Even if they were, there isn’t any equipment built today cleaner than the ones we’re asking for,” Lee said.
The county is exploring the use of biodiesel for the trucks if enough quantities can be found, Lee said.
The county is not monitoring air quality for the project, he noted.
“At the end of the day, there isn’t anything cleaner than what we’re doing,” Lee said.
He said the first phase of the project will feature restoration work and remove invasive weeds and plants, replacing them with native plants and trees as well as building access ramps.
Krider presented her information to members of the LCUSD Governing Board, LCF City Council and staffers on Nov. 8. There, LCUSD members said they plan to measure the air quality surrounding local schools with air-quality monitors.
At that time, Krider said the truck trips per day and the routes will result in a higher amount of pollutants in the area because of low speeds, entering and exiting ramps and other factors.
“I’m not here to use this as an end run to stop the project,” Krider said. “The project needs to be done. It’s the execution of the truck aspect of it that really has much more health impacts significant to 3,000 students that are in the area in addition to the families and the students on the Altadena side.”
In her presentation, Krider emphasized chemicals that can be harmful if they escape a truck. These include nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and smaller particulate matter such as soot involving microns, described as one-millionth of a meter.
“There are national and state regulatory standards for 10 microns and 2.5, but what there isn’t a standard for is for ultra-fine,” Krider said. “These are smaller and harmful carcinogens that make their way into the respiratory systems of children. What goes underappreciated in all of this is that exposure to diesel emissions at a young age stays with a child forever. They have health effects throughout their lifetimes, because of an exposure to a particle that’s not even on the list for calculating. There’s no consensus for this. So they’re not required to measure it. It’ll be decades before this makes its way into policy, but yet we still have a responsibility to track how much is actually reaching children.”
Krider, who is an independent consultant on science policy and academic issues for science and engineering research groups, said she attended the meeting to discuss the project’s impact on children and others in the area. Krider also previously served as Caltech’s director of government and community relations.
“What we really would take comfort in is a more protective stance by the school board and the City Council,” Krider said. “For some reason, the priority and the impacts on air pollution on the kids hasn’t really gotten as much attention.”
She added “everyone is watching” what happens with the project.
“My question to you today is what kind of assurances can we give our kids that we’re actually protecting them from things that we know about?”
Tujian noted a resolution was passed by La Cañada High School 7/8’s PTA in support of the school district’s 2017 resolution on addressing ongoing concerns related to the sediment removal and maintenance project. The resolution mentions the county Flood Control District’s proposal to excavate the sediment and debris over a four-year period, plus additional years of debris removal. A similar resolution will be introduced at the 9/12 PTSA meeting this morning, Nov. 15, at La Cañada High School.
Going forward, Tujian said the parent group is planning to hold a community presentation meeting on Dec. 5, when it will explain all of the newer research compiled thus far, and also ask for more parental involvement based on teams with areas of expertise.
More information on the project can be found at devilsgateproject.com and a more detailed report with slide show can be found on the LCHS website at lchsspartans.net.

Leave a Reply