Staff Reporter

After sitting idle for more than two decades, a polluted Superfund site in Monterey Park is being prepared to be reborn as a major retail center.

AHAS Inc. is negotiating to sell its 45-acre site just north of the Pomona (60) Freeway at Portero Grande Drive, 11 acres of which was a municipal dump, to Greenfield Development of Bellevue, Wash.

AHAS will be required to use proceeds from the sale, which is subject to Environmental Protection Agency approval, to pay for the cleanup.

After cleaning up the site, Greenfield could then resell the property to Hopkins Development Co. of Newport Beach, which would do the actual project development. Another possibility being discussed would involve Greenfield jointly developing the center with Hopkins.

Hopkins plans to break ground on its proposed 425,000-square-foot center by next summer and open the first portion of it by the 2000 holiday season.

"Not every piece of property with trash on it is taboo," said Kelvin Tainatongo, Monterey Park's director of economic development.

Most of the planned development is targeted for the non-polluted portions of the 45-acre site. The portion of the project slated for the 11-acre former dump site would likely open six to 12 months later.

Several businesses currently operating on the non-polluted portions of the site would have to be relocated to make way for the project. They include auto-wrecking yards, concrete and asphalt crushing and recycling companies and a wood-chip recycling business.

Tainatongo said the entire redevelopment project is expected to cost about $48 million, including the land acquisition, cleanup, construction of improved access to the site, and construction of a new center.

City officials would like to fund the road improvements with $7 million in federal government grants and loans, and they expect the project to generate about $29 million over 20 years in sales and property taxes.

Officials at Greenfield, which specializes in buying and cleaning up contaminated properties to sell to developers, declined comment because the company is in the midst of negotiating various agreements.

Cleanup of the site will entail capping the 11 acres with a non-permeable material (clay or cement) and building a control system to vent the methane gas that forms as a byproduct of the decomposing trash.

The EPA in 1995 had proposed building the methane gas control system in the middle of the project site, but the plan was opposed by city officials because it would have limited development possibilities. The EPA relented a few months ago, agreeing that the methane facility could be situated near the freeway, freeing up the rest of the site.

Complicating the development process is that directly across from the project site, on the south side of the Pomona (60) Freeway, sits a much larger, more-polluted site. That 145-acre plot, also designated a Superfund site, was used as a toxic dump, mostly for oil-refinery waste.

It will take quite a bit more time before that site can be redeveloped. Currently, New Cure Inc. which is overseeing cleanup based on EPA instructions is constructing a cover that will be landscaped. Even when that work is completed next year, it will be another 50 to 150 years before development could occur there.

This isn't the first time developers have eyed the northern parcel. In 1984, a mixed-use project was proposed, with office buildings and an auto row. But plans fell through a year later when both the northern and southern parcels were designated as Superfund sites, placing the property on a priority list for cleanup, with EPA oversight.

"We believe there's a much lower risk associated with the north parcel," said Russell Mechem, project manager with the EPA.

For all the challenges, the land has many advantages. "It's very attractive because it's along the freeway," Tainatongo said. "This really is our only large piece of property left for development."

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