News from around the Ojai Valley

Ojai green-waste facility may close very soon

By Alasdair Coyne
A combination of irreconcilable circumstances is threatening to force the permanent closure, possibly in coming weeks, of the Ojai Valley Organics green-waste processing facility on Old Baldwin Road. This is likely to lead to an ongoing wave of illegal dumping of truckloads of brush across our valley’s back roads.
The potential closure is related to recent infestations in the Meiners Oaks area of the polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB), a tiny non-native beetle that burrows into tree trunks and carries a fungus that can kill something like 65 species of trees common to Southern California. There is no easy way to control this beetle, which was first found in California some years back. The safest way to slow its spread is to cut down infected trees and then to mulch the wood into small chips, and then to tarp the resulting pile for several months.
The Ojai Valley Organics facility operates under a Conditional Use Permit from Ventura County. Currently this CUP is being revised to meet new state agricultural requirements to control the spread of the PSHB beetle. These require the shredding of municipal mulch into chunks under 1 inch in size; they also require that PSHB-infested wood be moved as little as possible (since this may allow beetles to escape from vehicles, thus infesting new areas). And dropped-off mulch has to be shredded every day.
We all want to slow the spread of the PSHB beetle. But here is the problem — a new municipal mulch shredder that can produce chunks of 1-inch size costs around a million dollars. Since E.J. Harrison stopped dropping off the green waste collected from Ojai’s brown barrels at Ojai Valley Organics two years ago (they truck it to Santa Paula now), the volumes of green waste taken to the Ojai facility have dropped to maybe a third of the previous volume. It is simply not possible to pay for such a machine with the relatively small volumes dropped off at Ojai Valley Organics — something less than 100 pickup truckloads per week.
County planners say there are two potential site operators looking at taking over the Ojai Valley Organics facility. I have spoken to one of these. He is very keen to find a way to operate the Ojai Valley Organics facility, but does not believe the new CUP conditions can be met economically for Ojai’s green-waste volumes. 
UC Riverside scientists who tested various shredders and their ability to control the PSHB beetle found that shredding logs to 1-inch-sized pieces killed 99 percent of the beetles — but shredding to 2 inches or so was close, at killing 98 percent of them. Is that really a vital difference here? With no Ojai facility, up to 100 percent of these PSHB beetles may fly free.
If no new operator can be found to take over the Ojai facility, it could close, maybe next month. Then we’ll begin to see people dumping loads of brush by night in out-of-the-way locations, such as along Creek Road. Which is a county road. Where the county will have to remove those dumped loads. Where any PSHB-infested brush loads may readily lead to the PSHB beetle infesting and killing riparian vegetation along San Antonio Creek, where almost all the trees are known host trees — sycamores, willows and alders. 
Tree professionals and gardeners will have to drive to Santa Paula to drop off their brush, adding hours to every workday. Allowing PSHB beetles to escape along Santa Paula Creek on the way. And that facility has no requirement to shred brush to 1-inch size.
A way must be found to keep the Ojai green-waste facility open for business in a way that allows a new operator to make ends meet and to control up to 98 percent of the PSHB beetles. 
Please call Supervisor Steve Bennett at 805-654- 2703, or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and ask him to help negotiate a solution to keep our valley’s greenwaste facility in operation.

 

— Alasdair Coyne lives in Upper Ojai.