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Wednesday, Oct 17 2012 05:04 PM
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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 dispute.


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 air quality.

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 said.

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.

Different readings

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 Boulevard site.

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.

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About the Organization

Founded in 2003, the Fresno-based Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ) is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health, environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improve the health of all Californians.

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