Summer Schools Vigilant on Air Quality Amid Big Dig

La Cañada Flintridge-area summer schools and sports camps are gearing up for the possible impact of sediment removal in connection with the controversial Devil’s Gate Dam project, with officials monitoring its potential effect on air quality.
A physical education program already is slated to be moved from its usual location at La Cañada High School, not far from the so-called Big Dig.
The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation Summer School for grades 9-12 is set to begin Monday, June 17, and continue through July 19. LCFEF board President Jinny Dalbeck said she recently met with LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal and asked to be kept in the loop about the monitoring of air quality for the project and have regular meetings to address any changes.
“We will continue to monitor it,” said Dalbeck about the air quality as it relates to potential impacts to outdoor physical education courses, such as swimming.
Officials have said the Los Angeles County project, which began its first phase in late November, is expected to include 425 daily round trips by approximately 95 diesel trucks through the intersection of Berkshire Place and Oak Grove Drive and onto the 210 Freeway. The haul trucks are expected to meet model year 2010 emission standards as well as other requirements, officials said.
On April 2, the county Board of Supervisors agreed to retain a consultant to place air-quality monitoring devices at the site and evaluate the data publicly along with other actions.
Supervisors approved the project in November 2017 to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dam at Hahamonga Watershed Park to increase flood protection and restore habitat within the Arroyo Seco Watershed. Work to clear out trees and vegetation began in late November.
Sediment removal began on May 21.
Edel Vizcarra, a spokesman for the county Department of Public Works, said on Tuesday that 60 to 65 trucks have been operating daily because the stringent standards have made it harder to find appropriate vehicles. Vizcarra said he did not think the reduced number of trucks would cause delays in the four-year timeline for the sediment removal.
“It’s going well,” Vizcarra said. “We did have a couple of dust issues on the west side, where the trucks were exiting. There was some dust coming off tires as the trucks headed toward the Berkshire exit during the first week. Since then, we’ve increased street sweepers and water trucks, and that’s helped a lot. And we’ll have an installation of a tire wash.”
Air-quality reports, conducted from May 21-June 7, can be found on the county’s website and appear to show the project is in compliance with air-quality standards.
La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the LCFEF Summer School’s plan is to run the first two weeks of the physical education program from LCHS and the following three weeks at the former Foothill Intermediate School, on the district offices’ grounds. She said the LCUSD is working with the county’s consultants, Tetra Tech, along with environmental consultants on air monitoring.
“The monitors in place right now have not registered any unhealthful air-quality conditions,” Sinnette said. She said it was the county’s goal to install “real time” air-quality monitors by the opening of the school year in August.
“Daily reports will be provided to the public,” Sinnette said. “Current concerns related to air quality largely center on dust, and the county is working on mitigations.”
She said the district is continuing to advocate for a community safety plan that would outline the decision-making process for “at-risk events” and identify appropriate responses.
Pat DeChellis, LCF’s director of public works, said he hadn’t seen any major issues with the project except for dust control. He said the county had agreed to do more to “control the airborne dust” after meeting with Hillside School and Learning Center last Thursday. The county Sheriff’s Department is still providing traffic control at Oak Grove and Berkshire in the afternoon, he added.
Spartan Allstars Sports Day Camp director Tamar Hill said her organization — which uses the LCHS campus — felt the Big Dig had made it rethink its approach.
“In a lot of ways, the changes we made have worked out better,” Hill said. For instance, check-in and checkout for the youth camp have been moved indoors, she said. They used to be in the parking lot.
Campers “stay cooler, especially since the past two days … summer has finally hit with a vengeance,” Hill said. “It’s very nice to not have kids sitting outside.”
The sports camp also has relocated all field activities from the varsity and junior varsity baseball fields to the Stadium or Oak Grove Field (both softball fields), away from what are considered high-risk zones.
Hill said a parent group, LCF 4 Healthy Air, had done a great job in raising concerns associated with the Big Dig to help the camp prepare. LCF 4 Healthy Air includes local residents who aim to reduce safety and health hazards to the community affected by the Big Dig.
Kelly Davis, a member of the group, said on Tuesday that county officials had been “very, very responsive” in the first few weeks of sediment removal. She said the group was pleased with the response to the dust issue and that the county is continuing to look at what else it can do.
“Summer school hasn’t started yet, so we’ll see how things go when it’s in full swing,” Davis said.
Guy Fish, executive director of Tom Sawyer Camps, which has a 10-week summer day camp in Hahamonga Watershed Park above Devil’s Gate Dam, said his organization does not anticipate the sediment removal will affect daily camp activities.
Bob Frank, director of the Hillside school near LCHS, said the project won’t really affect summer school there because classes will be held indoors. The school has obtained air monitors for the indoors and outdoors, as well as air purifiers, he said.
“I think the parents know we’ll take care of their kids,” said Frank, adding that the summer session begins on Monday. “Since the project began, there’s truck traffic but no more than what we’ve seen since it started. From my standpoint, the county has been very responsive to the concerns we’ve had.”
LCFEF’s Dalbeck noted that her physical education students will primarily be kept indoors at LCHS except in the early morning, when there will be swimming because the state mandates it and there are no similar facilities at FIS.
From July 1-19, LCUSD summer school students will move to the FIS site at Cornishon Avenue where some of the fields, the gym and tennis courts will be used, Dalbeck said.
The LCUSD closed FIS after the 1982-83 school year, though the facility continues to be used.
Anyone who has issues with the project can go to the county’s website at dpw.lacounty.gov/swe/devilsgate, email devilsgateproject@pw.lacounty.gov or call the hotline at (626) 458-2507.

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