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Oxnard Plant, Called a Top Area Polluter, Plans to Shut Down

September 11, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

An Oxnard metal recycler branded by critics as one of Ventura County's worst polluters says it is going out of business, signaling an end to a decades-long environmental feud at its beachfront property.

Halaco Engineering Co. intends to sell its south Oxnard factory and use the proceeds to address problems identified by government regulators and environmental watchdogs. Critics point to the massive waste pile that has long been blamed for contaminating nearby wetlands, groundwater and the ocean.

Struggling to stay in business against mounting compliance costs, Halaco officials considered several options, including a move to Tennessee, before deciding this week to close its doors and sell off assets, company attorney Arthur Fine said.

Halaco's most valuable asset is the 40-acre shoreline property where the company has been in business for nearly four decades, Fine said.

"There isn't money to resolve the regulatory issues, and the only way there is going to be money is a sale," said Fine, noting that the company's smelting operation already is shut down.

Environmental activists, government regulators and others who for years have accused Halaco of fouling the air and water around its Ormond Beach property said they were thrilled with news of the closure but remained skeptical.

"I never believe anything I hear about Halaco until I see it," said local Sierra Club point man Al Sanders. "For so many years, we've heard a lot and seen so little."

"It's a huge victory," said Kira Schmidt, executive director of Santa Barbara-based ChannelKeeper, one of the two environmental groups that sued Halaco. "But it's not over for us. We're going to remain vigilant on this until the property is sold and cleaned up."

Fine said Halaco was committed to cleaning up the site and complying with other regulatory requirements, even if it's no longer in business.

It's uncertain how the company's 20 to 25 employees will be affected, Fine said. While the smelting process has been curtailed, the company could conduct minor operations until the property is sold, he said. And some workers will be needed to monitor the cleanup.

Fine said he doubted another manufacturer would take Halaco's place, saying Oxnard officials probably would try to create a more compatible use on the coastline.

"It's a very valuable property," said Fine, whose father co-founded the company. "It's probably not going to sell for anything close to what it's worth, but it's far and away the most valuable asset Halaco owns."

Whatever happens, prosecutors, government regulators and environmentalists say they will be watching. "I think what Halaco says is subject to change and is being fine-tuned as it unfolds," said Ventura County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Mitchell Disney, who has prosecuted the company civilly and criminally for environmental violations.

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