County Planning requires EIR for proposal to reopen wastewater facility that exploded


A proposal to reopen Santa Clara Waste Water, just west of Santa Paula, will require a full environmental impact report, according to the Ventura County Planning Division, which informed the applicant of its decision in a March 8 letter.

Fontana-based RI-NU Environmental Services announced it was applying to reopen the shuttered facility in May 2019, expanding its size and operating it 24/7, alarming many residents who have turned out at three community forums to oppose the application.

On Nov. 18, 2014, Santa Clara Waste Water, at 815 Mission Rock Road in the unincorporated area of the county, catastrophically exploded, injuring scores of people, including three emergency personnel forced to medically retire; and releasing a 3-mile-toxic cloud, resulting in evacuations of a school and nearby residences and businesses.

In the aftermath, nine officials and staff members of Santa Clara Waste Water and Green Compass — and the two business entities — were indicted on more than 70 felony and misdemeanor charges related to the explosion.

In May 2021, county Planning Director Dave Ward decided RI-NU Environmental Services’ application could move forward with a mitigated negative declaration, which is a lesser environmental review than an EIR. After the county received 96 written public comments during the public comment period that ended Nov. 30, Ward changed his mind, outlining in a 14-page letter why an EIR will now be required. (Read the letter online at

Ward explained his about-face in his March 8 letter: “I have determined that there is substantial evidence in the record that demonstrates a fair argument that aspects of the project, either individually and/or cumulatively, could create a significant effect on the environment. Furthermore, it has been determined that one or more of these potential significant impact cannot clearly be reduced to a less-than-significant level through the imposition of feasible mitigation measures.”

In 2014, just months prior to the explosion — that resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency declaring SCWW to be Superfund site — the city of Oxnard refused to allow waste to be piped from SCWW to its own wastewater facility, citing excess radiation levels. A September 2014 sample of effluent to the Oxnard Wastewater Treatment Plant showed gross beta radioactivity at 4,400 picocurie per liter, exceeding its maximum daily effluent limit of 50 picocurie per liter, according to Oxnard Attorney Stephen Fischer in a June 2019 letter to the county Planning Division.

As a result, the current proposal is to truck the waste — most from oil production — in up to 500 truck trips a week, to other locations, including Chiquita and Simi Valley landfills.

“This is a great win for Santa Paula, and for everyone who has been, or could be, harmed by operations at the Santa Clara Waste Water site,” said Mary Ann Krause, a retired certified planner and former Santa Paula mayor. “We can take a breath while the EIR is prepared, but we will be back at our computers and in meeting rooms when we’re needed. Thanks to our coalition partners, Santa Clara Valley Together, Santa Paula Latino Town Hall, CFROG, the Sierra Club and many community members from Santa Paula, Fillmore, Ventura and Ojai.”

In November, former Ventura County District Attorney Investigator Jeff Barry received a letter from the law firm representing Santa Clara Waste Water’s secured creditor about a planned community presentation on the DA Office’s lengthy investigation into the criminal activity at SCWW. The letter from the Kansas City law firm, Kutak Rock, read: “You need to be extremely careful with regard to what you do, say and disclose during your ‘presentation.’ … If we learn that you made any false or defamatory statements during your ‘presentation,’ you are hereby advised that our clients and those harmed by your actions will take all actions necessary and appropriate to protect their interests to the maximum extent possible under the law. Govern yourself accordingly.”


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