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Trash Bills May Soar if Big Landfill Stays Closed

December 10, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Sanitation officials warned this week that trash bills for west Ventura County residents could jump from current average rates of about $10 to as high as $50 per month unless a massive Oxnard landfill is allowed to reopen next year.

The Ventura Regional Sanitation District is in a pickle because a state water agency recently indicated that it may block the district from opening Bailard Landfill--which has been closed since 1975--because of fears that it might contaminate underground water. The other large dump in the western part of the county, the district-run Coastal Landfill, is due to close in March, 1988.

At a sanitation district meeting last week, Assistant General Manager David R. Burkhart unveiled a list of possible alternatives to reopening Bailard--all of which he said translated to "drastic rate increases" for dump haulers and consequently for west county residents.

"It is clear that some extraordinary gate-fee adjustments will be necessary if the use of Bailard isn't permitted," Burkhart told the board.

Boost in Tipping Fees

One scenario calls for the district to raise the tipping fee, the rate that landfill operators charge waste haulers, from $14.50 per ton to $148 per ton. Another would keep Coastal open until September, 1988, by placing trash in a ditch along the dump's eastern edge and raise tipping fees to $60 per ton.

A third option calls for a rate increase to $28 per ton plus a $24.5-million bond issue to finance future operations. Burkhart said he is not sure whether the district can interest investors in such bonds.

The district did not raise fees at last week's meeting and instead voted to make an all-out effort to convince the state Regional Water Quality Control Board that reopening Bailard Landfill would have no negative effect on water quality.

The water board's decision on that issue is expected at its Jan. 25 meeting.

'We're Very Concerned'

Waste experts say that even the mildest increase proposed by the sanitation district staff would raise monthly trash bills 20% for residents of Ventura, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Camarillo, Somis and Ojai--the communities now served by Coastal Landfill.

"We're very concerned," said Ruben Mesa, general supervisor of Oxnard's refuse division. Oxnard residents now pay under $8 per month for municipal trash disposal, and Oxnard officials estimate that costs would increase to between $10 and $53 per month if the district raises tipping fees.

Officials at E. J. Harrison & Sons Inc., the county's largest private trash hauler, declined to comment until the district takes action.

Trash disposal has become an issue in the last few months as officials from the cities, county and sanitation district clash on the best way to dispose of the area's growing refuse.

Last month, the Regional Water Quality Control Board asked its staff to draw up a preliminary order rescinding the permit needed to operate Bailard because of concern over underground water supplies. Bailard sits on the Santa Clara River bed, over aquifers that supply drinking water to Oxnard residents, and board members fear that the dump could contaminate those sources.

District officials maintain that there is no pollution threat and have asked their engineers and technical experts to work with county officials to gather evidence to that effect.

But some county solid-waste employees say that reopening the Bailard dump may indeed pose an eventual environmental threat. Kay Martin, manager of Ventura County's Solid Waste Division, said pollutants from the dump may leach into aquifers in times of drought and have already polluted some untapped underground water just beneath the surface.

Regardless of whether Bailard is allowed to reopen, the thorny question remains as to who must eventually spend the $20 million it will take to seal and properly shut it down, the sanitation district or the dump's owner.

From 1962 to 1975, the Bailard family leased the landfill to a private operator who ran it as a municipal dump. After the operator shut it down in 1975 because he racked up numerous environmental violations, Bailard went unused, covered by only a thin layer of dirt, unfenced and open to the elements.

In 1978, the sanitation district entered into an agreement with the Bailard family to open and operate the dump and then shut it down in an environmentally safe manner when full.

This would include placing several feet of dirt fill above the landfill, capping it with a clay surface and building a hill with a 3% grade to encourage water runoff and prevent pools of water from leaching into the landfill.

District officials say it is unclear whether they are legally obliged to complete this work if Bailard is not allowed to reopen. A spokesman for the dump's owner, the Bailard family trust, could not be reached for comment.

But district officials point out that in good faith, they have already spent about $2 million to grade parts of the landfill, monitor for gas and water seepage, cover the dump with trucked-in dirt and build a levee that should keep the Santa Clara River from flooding the site in case of heavy winter storms.

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