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'Hazardous Truth' presentation shut down by wastewater plant owner's attorney

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Photo submitted 

A view from above during the 2014 explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water plant. 

 

By Kit Stolz, Special to the Ojai Valley News 

On Nov. 18, 2014, an explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water plant on the outskirts of Santa Paula caused a chemical fire and three-mile long plume of toxic smoke that sickened scores of people, disabled two firefighters, and caused the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to declare a state of emergency.

 

The industrial disaster resulted in a broad investigation that led to 71 criminal charges filed against nine executives, all of whom pled guilty or no contest to a number of charges.

Now, the Ventura County Planning Division is processing an application for the facility to reopen to process septic and oil-field waste, but truck it out of the area, instead of sending it through a 12-mile-long pipeline to an Oxnard facility, as it had prior to the explosion.

On Monday, Nov. 8, county Planning officials provided an overview of the application they have been processing with a mitigated negative declaration. Community members packed the meeting hall, with most speaking out against reopening the plant.

Former DA Investigator Jeff Barry, who led the criminal investigation into the 2014 explosion and fire at Santa Clara Waste Water, was invited by community members to give a public presentation a week earlier on Nov. 2, titled, “The Hazardous Truth: The Criminal Investigation into the 2014 Santa Clara Waste Water Explosion.” Although the incident and criminal proceedings have been widely reported by the media and are available in public court documents, a lawyer for the company that owns the controversial wastewater facility wrote Barry a letter he received just days before the presentation.

“You need to be extremely careful with regard to what you do, say and disclose during your proposed presentation,” wrote Greer Lang, an attorney in Missouri. “Although you had certain protections while acting on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office in your official capacity, as a private citizen, those protections are gone, and like everyone else, you are subject to civil liability, including punitive damages, if you make or republish any false or defamatory statements (including the republication of any false testimony given during the grand jury proceedings) about our clients.”

Barry’s presentation had been scheduled at the Santa Paula Regency 7 movie theater, and an expectant crowd of about 90 people filled the theater. When Ron Bamieh, a Ventura attorney representing Barry, said he had advised Barry not to speak, many in the crowd gasped. “

Jeff came here fully intending to speak to everybody here and make a presentation about the truth behind the investigation,” said Bamieh, speaking to the audience for Barry, standing nearby. “But he received this letter and had to make a decision. Does he want to be involved in litigation? Because somebody has a lot of money and can sue him.”

Gabino Aguirre, a former Santa Paula mayor, said to the audience: “The county should have protected us before, but they didn’t, and they’re not going to protect us now unless we exercise our rights. In my view, this is a clear example of environmental racism. In their view, because we are a minority community and cannot defend ourselves, it’s easy to place these hazardous industries in communities like Santa Paula.”

For information about the application, go online to: https://bit.ly/3mKGxow. 

 

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