RIVERSIDE — A federal judge has ruled that two sludge processing companies, whose operations on Indian reservation land near Indio sparked a 15-day protest blockade last month, were trespassing because they did not have government approval to use the site.
Even though the firms had entered into leases with Geraldine Ibanez, who was individually allotted the land on the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Reservation, she could not personally allow its use as a sludge compost site, U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin ruled Monday.
Such leases must first be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior as trustee of the land, the judge ruled. Those lease requests in the Indio case were forwarded to federal authorities several months ago, but have not yet been acted upon.
Timlin also ruled that Ibanez and the sludge companies created a nuisance by allowing the build-up of dried, processed sewage on her 160-acre parcel. Critics said the fertilizer operation created odors and dust and attracted flies.
Timlin ordered a preliminary injunction against the sludge processors, banning them from accepting any more material from Orange and San Diego county sewage treatment plants. But the judge told Terra Farms Inc. of Santee and Pima Gro Systems Inc. of Redlands that they could continue to compost material they already had shipped to the site, so it could be removed.
A third composting company, HCK Inc. of Torrance, had agreed earlier to stop delivery of sludge and was not included in Timlin's order.
Ibanez's husband, Vincent, said he and the companies hope that federal officials will still approve the operation, even though some members of his wife's tribe strongly object to it.