Federal and state officials are
ramping up pressure on the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District to allow the
return of an air quality monitoring station that the agency had removed from
its property more than a year ago.
Representatives of the California
Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent letters
to the district last week asking for a speedy resolution of the three-year-old
Both agencies warned that, until the
matter is settled, the federal government cannot declare the Central Valley to
be in compliance with air standards -- meaning $38 million in fines will
continue to be levied against area residents regardless of any improvement in
It remains to be seen what leverage
the two regulatory agencies might bring to bear against the water storage
district if it continues to resist reinstallation of the monitor.
But in an Oct. 8 letter to district
Engineer-Manager Steve Collup, Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols
noted that the district's ability to own property and levy taxes "come
with a responsibility to the citizens of California." Although the letter
contains no explicit threats, one is clearly implied.
"If an acceptable agreement
cannot be reached, ARB will be forced to explore alternate options that
unfortunately would likely demand more time and expense from all who would be
affected if Arvin-Edison does not change course," Nichols wrote.
The Oct. 10 letter from EPA Regional
Administrator Jared Blumenfeld was less pointed but equally emphatic.
"It is imperative that we
quickly reach an agreement on how to relocate the monitor back to its original
site," he wrote.
Collup said he would bring up the
letters at the district's next board meeting, set for Nov. 16. But until then,
he said he expects the state to look into the feasibility of moving the station
to a neighboring property, as he recommended earlier.
"If that location is important
to them, walk across the road," he said. "It's 70 feet and that
landowner I'm sure would work with them."
The water storage district had
hosted the monitor at its property on Bear Mountain Boulevard since 1989. But
over the years the agencies' relationship deteriorated.
Collup said the last time the lease
came up, in 2009, district board members expressed frustration with the air
board's tighter air restrictions. They also complained that they were not
getting straight answers from the state.
The water district's board members
"really questioned the credibility and the science behind all these rules
and regulations (air board representatives) were promulgating," Collup
He also said the district has had to
replace or retrofit its dump trucks and other heavy equipment, at significant
expense -- and that board members are local farmers who directly felt the
effects of more stringent air rules.
The water district agreed to leave
the monitor in place for another year, into 2010, but has resisted the board's
request to have the device put back.
The air board initially thought that
moving the monitoring station would present no problems. But it became apparent
that the new location, near Di Giorgio Elementary School, was registering ozone
readings about 10 percent cleaner than those of the previous station.
That presents a legal problem.
Nichols' letter says the air board and the EPA won't be able to determine
whether the Central Valley has attained its air quality improvement goals
unless new readings can be taken at the water district's Bear Mountain
Nichols' letter offers to pay
"any reasonable fee" the district deems appropriate. It notes that
the monitor would be located in a shipping container on a concrete pad
measuring 14 feet by 34 feet, and that air board personnel would need access to
the station just once a week for one to two hours.
A Kern County environmental activist
group, the Association of Irritated Residents, has sided with the air board,
arguing that air quality readings from the new monitoring station cannot be
used to show improvement.
"Getting accurate and
consistent readings of the air quality in the Arvin area is critical to the
health and quality of life for thousands of valley residents," AIR
President Tom Frantz wrote in a Wednesday news release.