Irvine city leaders unanimously approved a plan to shut down the controversial All American Asphalt plant on the city’s northern edge – a move that’s also set to bring a new 700 acre preserve to the city.
But the plan could end up costing the city millions and leave them stuck with 11 acres requiring environmental cleanup.
Irvine set to pay $285 million to shut down the asphalt plant and purchase the land, but they won’t be able to do in-depth environmental reviews of the site until after they provide a down payment of $28.5 million.
[Read: Irvine Looks to Buy Out Controversial Asphalt Plant for $285 Million]
City officials won’t know exactly what’s going on with the land until after a check’s been signed for the deal because All American Asphalt forbade any sort of land survey and analysis before the purchase.
Irvine City Council members unanimously praised the plan at a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the potential risks were outweighed by the potential benefits.
“My view was this plant, one way or another, had to be closed,” said Councilman Larry Agran. “I do share some concerns about what we may find along the way, I understand those risks, but I think I’m satisfied at least that we’ve protected the city’s interests here.”
In June, the city is set to pay a nonrefundable $28.5 million deposit on the deal.
The facility won’t stop producing asphalt until Nov. 15, and within five days of that the city has to pay another nonrefundable $228 million toward the purchase price.
The final payment of $28.5 million is due by Feb. 1 of next year.
The city was also barred from reviewing whether or not the $285 million was a fair purchase price according to the staff report.
City Manager Oliver Chi said the city would not be allowed to conduct their normal reviews, and that All American Asphalt’s owners were refusing to budge on that issue.
“The insurance policy we’re looking to obtain will protect against catastrophic issues that may have arisen from the operation of the plant,” Chi said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Given the acrimony between the city and the All American Asphalt owners … it was non negotiable.”
The asphalt plant, which opened in the 1990s, has been a growing problem as more houses were built on the northern edge of Irvine’s Orchard Hills neighborhood, with residents arguing pollutants were ruining their quality of life while state regulators and local leaders debated how to solve the problem for years.
[Read: Something’s In the Air: Irvine Residents’ Yearslong Battle For Breathable Air]
In February, city leaders announced they had a new plan to handle the plant, and publicly unveiled it in a staff report released last week.
While the details of that policy have yet to be determined, city staff say they’re hoping to bring it before the council in the next two months, with the goal of covering any costs associated with the site’s cleanup.
But at the meeting, William von Blasingame, a former appointee to the Santa Ana regional water board by former Gov. Jerry Brown with a history for calling out environmental impacts, spoke up during public comment and said the deal could have some real problems for the city’s future.
“I’ve been involved in EPA superfund cleanups. They always cost more than you think. Always,” Blasingame told the city council. “This could be a half a billion dollar project.”
“You have no idea what the environmental risks are here.”
At the same time, officials are looking to receive 375 acres of donated land from the Irvine Company, and an additional portion between 70-80 acres which will be sold to offset the costs of purchasing the asphalt factory according to the staff report.
That 91 acres is valued at around $330 million, but city staff made it clear that those estimates could change in the future.
The remaining land will be combined with the city’s existing 300 acres of open space to form the Gateway Preserve, creating nearly 700 acres of open space.
Councilwoman Tammy Kim also praised the plan, but pointed out how there was still a lot to finalize before the plant was shut down.
“This project exemplifies the hope and heartburn that we as policy makers sometimes experience,” Kim said. “The decision made today will have significant implications, and it’s critical we acknowledge the full scope of this project.”
Kim also called the news of shutting down the facility a “sugar high,” and said the city had to work hard to ensure they didn’t end up stuck with “a quarter billion dollar debt sitting on our waistline.”
“We cannot indulge in the short term benefits of this deal without realizing the long term financial obligations of this,” Kim said. “As long as we all recognize that the cost of this deal isn’t’ just for today, but for months and years ahead, can we actually move forward with excitement.”
In a phone interview after the meeting, former north Irvine resident Kim Konte, who helped organize many of the protests that started discussions on the plant’s future in the city, spoke on behalf of resident group Nontoxic Neighborhoods.
“This public health emergency was transformed into a development deal,” Konte said. “At the same time, we don’t care. If we get access to air that’s free of benzene, go for it.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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