Companies plead no contest in waste cover-up

Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.
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The mishandling of hazardous waste following an explosion in Santa Paula four years ago — some of which was allegedly trucked to the Chiquita Landfill and dumped there — resulted in “no contest” pleas being entered by two companies indicted in the case.

On June 6, the Santa Clara Waste Water Company and Green Compass Environmental Solutions LLC. pleaded no contest to eight crimes, including four felonies in connection with a case that began Nov. 18, 2015, at 3:45 a.m.

On that day, an explosion occurred at 815 Mission Rock Road in Santa Paula, a wastewater treatment facility owned and operated by Green Compass.

A team of investigators immediately began probing the blast. Investigators included the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, and the Criminal Investigations Division of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The joint investigation revealed the blast was caused by the mixing and disposal of hazardous chemicals into a 5,040-gallon vacuum truck not rated to hold, nor transport, such chemicals, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dominic Kardum said in a news release issued in June.

Several Green Compass employees were hurt. As well, firefighters and paramedics who responded to the blast and rendered aid to those who were hurt were, themselves, injured either by the initial explosion or by inhaling toxic vapors that developed on site shortly afterward from the chemicals that exploded out of the vacuum truck, the probe concluded.

In August 2015, OIG investigators issued a news release that 11 defendants had been indicted in connection with the 2014 explosion. They alleged, in the same news release, that some of the hazardous waste was trucked to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill where it was dumped.

Specifically, they alleged: “The Santa Clara Waste Water Company also disposed of hazardous waste via: (1) a wastewater pipeline to the city of Oxnard’s sewage plant, and (2) trailers to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Neither were approved for the disposal of hazardous waste.”

John Musella, spokesman for Chiquita Canyon, issued a written response Monday to the accusation of illegal dumping at Chiquita.

“We are unaware of any findings from the DOT/OIG investigation involving the Santa Clara Waste Water Company,” he wrote in his response. “There are extensive government regulations and oversight to ensure the proper acceptance of waste materials at solid waste disposal facilities, including Chiquita Canyon. Chiquita Canyon only accepts non-hazardous solid waste for disposal.”

The federal Office of the Inspector General was created in 1978. It carries out audits and investigations on behalf of the American public to “improve the performance and integrity of DOT’s programs to ensure a safe, efficient, and effective national transportation system,” according to its mission statement.

As a result of the “no contest” pleas entered in June, the corporate defendants were ordered to pay $2.79 million in restitution.

This amount is in addition to $800,000 of restitution previously paid by other convicted co-defendants, bringing the total amount of court-ordered restitution to $3.59 million.

To date, eight other individually charged co-defendants have entered pleas in the case.

On June 6, the corporate defendants pleaded no contest to felonies, including: conspiracy to impede an environmental enforcement official; knowing failure to warn of a serious concealed danger, specifically sodium chlorite; filing a false or forged instrument for recording in a public office and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime.

They also pleaded no contest to four misdemeanors, including: impeding an environmental enforcement official; failure to update the hazardous materials business plan; failure to update the hazardous materials inventory, and submission of false records or statements to the California Environmental Reporting System.

The Santa Clara Waste Water Company and Green Compass Environmental Solutions LLC are scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 23.

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