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Smoke billows after an explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water plant near Santa Paula in November 2014.
Source: Contributed photo by Anthony Plasencia

A Fontana, CA, company wants to purchase and reopen a wastewater plant near Santa Paula closed for almost five years following a chemical explosion that led to injuries and criminal charges.

The proposal from RI-NU Services has moved farther than any other through the county government’s approval process since the blast on Nov. 18, 2014 at the facility operated by the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. The reason for the movement is because the county Planning Division found no insurmountable environmental issues.

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After reviewing a 134-page study of the environmental effects, case planner Franca Rosengren decided a “mitigated negative declaration” should be prepared. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, that signifies the environmental harm can be lessened to the point where it is not significant.

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Planning officials made the determination based on the evidence, Rosengren said.

Of three dozen topics studied, two emerged that could be significant: The use of hazardous materials in the operation of the wastewater facility and the incompatibility with adjacent agricultural lots. But those could be reduced to a nonsignificant level by making operational changes recommended by safety consultants and adding a landscaping buffer to protect farmland, planning officials found.

Under a consent agreement, Timothy Koziol, chief executive of RI-NU, agreed to make those changes.

Koziol said he hopes to acquire and operate the facility at 815 Mission Rock Road if the required permits are reinstated.

“If run right and safely, it meets numerous needs in the marketplace,” he said. “I am excited about the opportunity to get it re-permitted, fix it and operate it with the best management practices possible.”

He needs the county’s permission to reactivate the operating permit and the city of Oxnard’s approval of a permit to discharge wastewater through a pipeline to the city’s wastewater system. Both authorizations were suspended after the explosion.

Nine months after the blast, the Santa Clara Waste Water Co., the affiliated Green Compass, and nine company executives and managers were indicted on various charges that concerned handling of hazardous waste, workplace safety, causing injury and other offenses. Eight have pleaded guilty or no contest. The ninth person, Marlene Faltemier, is awaiting trial as are the two corporate entities.

Koziol is proposing new safety measures, including reconfiguring the layout of the plant and measures intended to prevent the mix-up of containers implicated in the explosion.

An internal investigation indicated the explosion was likely caused by the vacuuming of a treatment chemical into a truck containing domestic waste, creating a chemical reaction, pressure and ultimately the blast. A worker vacuumed the material into the truck under a supervisor’s instruction, according to published reports.

The wastewater and the treatment chemical were kept in similar containers called totes, according to the investigation.

Under proposed operational changes, RI-NU will not accept wastewater in totes and treatment chemicals will be stored inside a separate storage building that will be added to the plant. A laboratory will also be built where incoming loads will be tested to make sure they do not exceed standards for hazardous waste.

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