The California Department of Transportation has dumped 2,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil on an embankment near the Ventura Freeway about 10 miles north of Ventura instead of hauling it to an Oxnard landfill as required by county environmental health authorities, a county spokesman said this week.
The soil, which came from a canyon in the hills above the Rincon, was part of up to 12,000 tons of contaminated earth that the county had ordered shipped to the Bailard Landfill in Oxnard three years ago in a major environmental cleanup.
But a Ventura County environmental inspector, acting on a tip, followed a truck hauling soil from the canyon and discovered that Caltrans was instead dumping truckloads of soil in a dirt area between the Old Rincon Highway and the Ventura Freeway about half a mile north of the Mobil Oil Corp. pier.
Bruce W. Dyar, Caltrans regional manager for Ventura, said he ordered the dumping on a temporary basis. Dyar said he planned to transfer the soil to the Oxnard landfill within several days.
Dyar said he ordered the dirt dumped there because a contract with a trucking company to haul the waste was about to expire.
The county counsel's office is reviewing the dumping with environmental health officials, but declined to say whether it would recommend the imposition of penalties against CalTrans.
The county has ordered Caltrans to remove the material from the site near the freeway and ship it to Bailard. That cleanup will continue into next week.
Terry Gilday, a county Environmental Health Division spokesman, said the soil is contaminated with low levels of lead that probably would not create a health hazard for passing bicyclists and others in the area. No residences are nearby.
But he said the dumping posed "a potential hazard to ground water and surface water." The ocean water near the pier is a popular surfing spot, Gilday said, and rains could cause the lead to trickle into the ocean or underground water sources.
"The proper place for it is in a well-managed landfill where there's lots of controls to keep it from escaping into the environment," Gilday said.
The unauthorized dumping was discovered Aug. 22 after county environmental health authorities went to the Rincon Canyon area to check on the cleanup of another unauthorized dump site that may date back 30 years, Gilday said.
About three years ago, the county discovered that Caltrans and the state Parks and Recreation Department had been dumping brush clippings and waste from roads and highways in the remote canyon, Gilday said. The clippings were contaminated with high levels of lead from car exhaust and in turn were contaminating the soil.
The county ordered the dumping stopped and told Caltrans and the state parks department to clean up the site. Since then, 10,000 tons have been transported to Bailard.
The operation was coordinated by Shell Oil Co. and Conoco. The oil companies agreed to get involved "purely from a P.R. point of view," said Susan King, an environmental affairs coordinator at Conoco.
Both oil companies deny that they ever dumped anything on the site, which is owned by Cynthia Wood, the Santa Barbara heiress on whose property California State University wants to build a Ventura campus.
But Shell once held an oil and gas lease on the site, and Shell and Conoco both used the land to gain access to other fields that they leased in the area, said officials with both companies.
Shell and Conoco have also agreed to terrace the Rincon Canyon site and replant it with native vegetation.
County officials said cleanup of the canyon site has been completed. Final soil samples will determine whether any contaminated earth remains.