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Officials Study Options After Weldon Demise : Landfills: Experts admit no one knows just what the next step will be for tackling the county's growing waste problem.

July 11, 1993|SARA CATANIA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County officials are regrouping in the aftermath of the sudden death last week of the proposed Weldon Canyon landfill in Ojai.

And how long it will take them to figure out the most appropriate alternative is anybody's guess, they say.

The shift in government regulations and public sentiment that led to the dump's demise has city and county officials formulating a range of new and sometimes contradictory plans to meet the area's trash disposal needs.

But officials say no one knows just what the next step will be for tackling the county's waste problems.

"There are a lot of people talking a lot of landfill and trash rhetoric," said Steve Chase, environmental coordinator for the city of Ventura.

"What we really need is for people to step up to the plate and get to work."

"We are moving ahead on several fronts, but there are still many unknowns," said Kay Martin, county solid waste management director, who has conducted several studies on the future of trash in the county.

"Right now I'm trying to create a dialogue in as broad a community as possible because these decisions affect us all."

Some hope the end of Weldon marks a new direction for trash management that will focus more on recycling and reducing waste than on burying trash. According to state regulations, the county must reduce waste going into landfills by half by the year 2000 or face $10,000 a day in fines.

Others are wrangling over a countywide waste authority proposed by state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) that would centralize trash decisions throughout the county, providing an umbrella organization to make trash policy decisions and increase the county's clout on statewide trash issues.

Oxnard, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark have expressed reservations about the plan, suggesting their own alternatives.

But as the deadline approaches for closure of the Bailard Landfill in Oxnard, which now handles most of the west county's trash, the attention of officials is zeroing in on the pressing need to find landfill space for the west county's trash.

"We need to move quickly to get some new policies in place," said Supervisor Maggie Kildee, whose decision to oppose the Weldon proposal provided the swing vote needed to defeat a proposal by Waste Management of North America to delay hearings on the dump--a vote that led in days to the company's formal withdrawal from the project.

Seeking dumping permission requires a grueling series of reports, applications and hearings, grandly illustrated by the tortuous course of the Weldon Canyon proposal.

Waste Management's withdrawal of the Weldon Canyon landfill proposal last week came eight years, hundreds of meetings and millions of dollars into consideration of the dump.

Kildee's announcement last month that she would cast her vote against the dump triggered the fast-moving chain of events that led to the ultimate death of the project.

"The opposition just kept growing, and Maggie went with it," said Supervisor John K. Flynn. "Her vote was the one that mattered and once she made up her mind, it was almost a done deal."

Flynn has since joined Supervisors Kildee, Susan K. Lacey and Maria VanderKolk in opposing the dump.

For now, officials are turning their attention to other landfills to handle the west county's trash.

Close to home, the county could extend the life of Bailard Landfill, increase the capacity of Toland Landfill between Santa Paula and Fillmore or haul trash from the western county into Simi Valley.

County planners are considering an application that would extend the life of Bailard until April, 1996. The landfill, which handles most of the west county's 500,000 tons of trash a year, is scheduled to close in December.

The application must now make its way through the county public works and air quality control agencies, be reviewed by the county's waste and planning commissions, and finally be considered by the Board of Supervisors.

"The worst-case scenario is that it would not go to the board until December," said Lori Norton, principal analyst with the Ventura Regional Sanitation District. "But I hope the county does what needs to be done so we don't get into that situation."

Flynn said he thinks the board will consider the extension in November and will allow the dump to stay open until 1996 or 1997.

Michael E. Williams, who oversees Waste Management's Ventura county operations, said he hopes the Bailard extension request would be put to the same close scrutiny that killed Weldon.

"I guess we'd like to ask that all the requirements be applied equally," Williams said.

Other alternatives being considered include hauling the trash to more distant dumps in Los Angeles, hauling it by train to landfills in Utah and Washington, or shipping it to China.

The rail haul option, which has generated a great deal of interest among Weldon's supporters and its opponents, requires more study to determine whether it would be more costly than taking trash to a local landfill, Martin said.

And a rail haul system would require building local transfer stations to hold the trash until it could be hauled, Martin said.

Kildee said she expects Martin's staff to submit to the board in August a detailed evaluation of the county's disposal options, including the precise costs of hauling waste by rail and a plan to recycle so-called green waste, such as lawn clippings and tree trimmings.

"We are moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done," Martin said.

* LOOKING AT SIMI: East county fears the west's trash is headed its way. B6

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