Sanitation officials won an important victory Monday when a state water agency gave preliminary approval to reopen the Bailard landfill, a long-closed dump in west Ventura County.
The approval is contingent upon the county spending $6.5 million to monitor dump pollution, a cost likely to be passed on to about 250,000 west Ventura County residents through garbage-fee hikes.
The Ventura Regional Sanitation District says it will probably fund the environmental controls at Bailard by raising tipping fees--the rates that dumps charge waste haulers--by 86%. That, in turn, could raise the $10 average monthly rate as much as 25%, experts say.
Sanitation officials say it is the lesser of two evils. Coastal Landfill, the only large dump serving the west county, will close in March when it reaches capacity.
If the Regional Water Quality Control Board had not voted to grant Bailard an operating permit this week, the county would have been faced with shipping its trash to dumps in east Ventura County or perhaps even Los Angeles, which would have resulted in a bigger fee increase for the average resident.
Monday's decision signified an about-face for the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which in November indicated that Bailard should remain closed because of fears of water supply contamination.
The board changed its mind this week after listening to the county's expensive plan to ensure that pollutants don't leak out of Bailard. The county wants to install monitoring devices to test for pollution, run pipes through the trash to extract liquids and gases and cap each layer of debris with clay to retard the flow of contaminants and water into the ground.
"I'm satisfied that they have a plan that shows some protection for the underground water system," board member Clark Drane said after the unanimous vote that set Bailard's reopening into motion.
"It's a pleasure to see agencies work together in a very fast way to solve the problem," said board member Dan W. Walker.
Sanitation officials said they have toiled for the past two months drawing up a program to address the water board's concerns about water pollution.
Initially, "we came into this thing thinking that these extra protective measures were not necessary," said Wayne Bruce, the sanitation district's executive director.
Bailard, a 224-acre dump near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, sits on an aquifer that supplies water to residents of the Oxnard Plain. Water board members and some county environmentalists were concerned that pollutants from the dump could leach into this water.
The board is expected to vote formally whether to reopen the Bailard site in March, after it reviews the district's proposal and draws up a list of regulations.
But already, citrus growers fear that the water board could ban them from dumping agricultural wastes at Bailard because of the high moisture content of decaying fruit.
At least one water board engineer has indicated that this may be a possibility, unless the growers find a way to chemically treat the fruit waste to reduce water content. Representatives of several large citrus firms spoke against such a ban at Monday's public hearing.
While county officials also voiced concern about the agricultural waste issue, they greeted the water board's vote with cautious optimism.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Les Maland, chairman of the sanitation district. "We're closer to a solution."
County officials told the board they envision building a 58-foot layer-cake of trash interspersed with clay on the site.
Before any trash is dumped, however, the county will lay a one-foot clay foundation on the dormant Bailard landfill, which was closed down in 1975 for environmental violations that included lack of a container fence, pooling of water on the site and insufficient dirt covering.
Once Bailard reopens, trash will be mixed with dirt as it is dumped. Each 15 feet, the trash will be sealed with another foot-deep layer of clay.
Meanwhile, the district will also install pipes to collect the methane gas produced by the decomposition of trash. Another set of pipes will collect liquids that are generated as the trash turns to mulch.
Bruce said the district plans to test water every three months from 33 wells that have been drilled into the aquifers.