CAMARILLO — Confronted with a crowd of dozens of local politicians, lawyers and residents anxious to have their say about the expansion of the Toland Road Landfill, the Regional Water Quality Control Board opted Monday to postpone a hearing on the issue until July.
"We would have two hours worth of testimony if we held everybody who wants to speak to just three minutes," said the board's executive officer, Robert Ghirelli, looking out at the crowd packed into the Camarillo City Council chambers.
The size of Monday's turnout was a sure sign that the controversy over the expansion continues to rage, despite a 3-2 vote last month by the County Board of Supervisors to turn the small regional dump in the Santa Clara Valley into the main dumping ground for western Ventura County.
Ed McCombs, the general manager of the Ventura Regional Sanitation District, urged the board--a branch of the state Environmental Protection Agency--to move quickly on the issue. He said the public agency, which runs the Toland landfill, is under time pressure because Bailard Landfill in Oxnard is due to close in August.
But opponents of the Toland project jumped in to plead their case, saying they had not been given adequate notice of the meeting. They dismissed McComb's concerns.
"Do you think Toland could actually be open by August?" said Fillmore Mayor Roger Campbell. "Please. There is no urgency here. The only water we have here in our valley is ground water, not state water. We're the ones that are down in the trenches fighting to protect our water."
The cities of Fillmore and Santa Paula have each filed a lawsuit challenging the environmental document prepared for the Toland expansion. A citizens group of growers and individuals as well as the Santa Clara Elementary School District have also filed suits.
Attorney Robert Sawyer, representing Ventura County Citizens to Stop Toland Landfill, said the three groups will consider a temporary injunction to stop the landfill if necessary.
The sanitation district must obtain two permits before going forward with the project--from the regional water board and from the California Integrated Waste Management Board, which meets in July.
The Toland issue had been on the board's consent calendar for Monday, but was quickly removed when staff members realized they had misjudged the amount of opposition to the landfill expansion.
Santa Paula Mayor John Melton told the board he was appalled Toland had been placed on the consent calendar.
"I can assure you it was not a conspiracy," said board member Jack Coe. "It was a mistake."
At the end of the discussion, the regional board voted to delay action and extend the written response time to June 24 and hold a hearing in July. But they made it clear that they are not interested in a repeat of the emotional nine hours of public testimony that proceeded the supervisors' decision in May. Comments must be focused, they said.
"A lot of the issues raised here have to do with noise and traffic," said Chairman Michael Keston, holding a stack of speaker cards. "Well, that isn't what this board deals with. We deal with water quality issues."
After the meeting, McCombs said he was disappointed that the large group assembled in support of the landfill--including 10 staff members, five consultants and city officials from Oxnard, Ventura, Point Hueneme and Thousand Oaks--didn't get a chance to speak. But he said he is confident that the permit would be granted in July.