Oxnard: At issue is whether all traces of a landfill and oil-waste dump were removed before the waterfront housing was built.



NOVEMBER 10 1991

A county inquiry should be conducted to determine whether the developers of Oxnard’s Mandalay Bay safely removed all traces of a county landfill and oil-waste dump before building the luxury subdivision more than 20 years ago, Supervisor John K. Flynn said this week.

Flynn’s call for an investigation came after a study by The Times showed that part of the waterfront development west of the Edison Canal in Oxnard was built over the site of two former waste facilities.

The area is less than one mile from the Oxnard Dunes subdivision, where discovery of another oil-waste dump five years ago has led to a still-unresolved $2.8-billion lawsuit by residents.

Old documents have confirmed that the county-run landfill in Mandalay Bay was one of the largest in Ventura County in its day, and was authorized to receive hazardous wastes for two years before its 1955 closure.

But missing are records that show what material was dumped in the Mandalay landfill during the 11 years of its operation, or in the oil-field sump during its five-year history.

The loss of records has left city and county officials unable to say whether a consultant’s proposed cleanup plan in 1969 was completed, or if it would meet today’s stricter environmental cleanup standards.

Flynn, who 10 years ago opposed the continued dumping of oil wastes at an oil-waste dump north of Mandalay Bay, said the residents need to know of any possible health risks.

“I want to ask county public works and planning, and any private consultant to share with me, the Board of Supervisors and the Oxnard City Council information showing that the situation was recognized and mitigation measures taken,” Flynn said.

Saying he does not want to “unnecessarily alarm” Mandalay Bay residents, Flynn said soil tests would only be conducted if the investigation warrants an inquiry.

In a sense, the former county landfill has literally become the garbage dump that time forgot. The landfill and oil-waste sump are not listed in the safety element of Oxnard’s General Plan, which is supposed to record former land uses that are potentially hazardous.

Subdivision files for Mandalay Bay retained by the city of Oxnard also omitted any mention of the dumps in the list of conditions imposed on the Oxnard Marina Development Co.

Neither are the facilities included in a list of about 60 former dumps identified by Ventura County’s Environmental Health Department, or on its confidential list of 200 rumored dump sites, The Times learned.

The former waste sites also are not listed in a survey of 2,000 known or suspected dumps compiled by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board or in a similar list kept by the state Integrated Waste Management Board.

Word that a dump formerly existed in Mandalay Bay caught current Oxnard officials by surprise.

Despite “allegations” that have surfaced periodically, Oxnard Planning Director Matt Winegar said, “We have not discovered any information to substantiate that there were ever any (dumps) west of the Edison Canal.”

Others reacted guardedly. “I’m not overly alarmed yet,” Councilman Michael Plisky said. “This type of site has a way of getting blown out of proportion.”

Mayor Nao Takasugi and Councilwoman Geraldine Furr, a Mandalay Bay resident, did not respond to requests for comment.

Paul Wolven, Oxnard’s city manager from 1952 to 1979, a period in which documents confirm that both dumps were still operating and the time when the area was annexed to Oxnard, expressed strong doubts that the dumps ever existed in the current Mandalay Bay area.

“We weren’t aware of any land usage (at Mandalay Bay) besides farmland,” said Wolven, who lives in Mandalay Bay.

Even if the location of the dump site had been widely known, cleanup requirements were less strict then, said Tom Laubacher, who represented Oxnard as a Ventura County supervisor when Mandalay Bay was built.

“There was nobody, no Environmental Protection Agency, to say how you had to clean up oil wastes then,” Laubacher said.

But with the further development of Ventura County, more evidence of former waste sites and oil spills will continue to surface, Oxnard City Atty. Gary Gillig said.

“It’s like an archeological expedition every time you dig,” Gillig said, adding that city crews routinely discover old oil leaks, abandoned wells and former oil-storage tanks during street widenings and other projects.

Subdivided between 1969 and 1973 by the Oxnard Marina Development Co., the two phases of Mandalay Bay west of the Edison Canal were built before the introduction of mandatory environmental reviews.

But the former dumps were identified in 1969 through test cores drilled by a consulting firm hired by the developer, Geotechnical Consultants Inc., documents show. The consultants recommended that the landfill material be removed, and the oil waste either be removed or mixed with six parts of clean soil for each part of contaminated soil.

According to Rod Nelson, a senior engineer with the state Water Quality Control Board, mixing oil wastes with clean soil would not be an acceptable mitigation plan if proposed today.

The material dredged to form the exclusive development’s waterways was hauled across the street to Mandalay Beach, where it was piled up to 20 feet deep.

But whether the dredged mud and sand contained residual material from the landfill and oil sump is unknown. No mention of the Mandalay dump sites was made in an environmental study prepared for the Mandalay Beach Resort Hotel and The Colony development.

The only concern the study’s authors expressed about the dredged soil was whether it was properly compacted to ensure that it would provide a solid foundation for construction in the area.

Officials with Zurn Industries of Pennsylvania, which bought out its partner in Oxnard Marina Development Co., did not respond to inquiries about the proposed mitigation plan at Mandalay Bay.

The limited amount of information that does exist about the forgotten Mandalay Bay dumps has slowly surfaced, first from aerial photographs gathered for a 1981 study of the J.N.J. Oil Field Waste Site north of Oxnard’s 5th Street, and later in papers filed for the Oxnard Dunes litigation.

What has emerged is a picture of a pre-1960s western Ventura County, where residents considered as useless the sand dunes and wetlands that bordered the coast from the Santa Clara River to Point Mugu.

That outlook is reflected in a 1957 appraisal by Robert B. Lamb and Paul D. Tedrick of the area surrounding the Ventura City Dump, now Ventura Harbor.

The swampy area was “virtually worthless” for farming, the appraisers said, adding, “It is our opinion that an area in the tidal slough reaches its highest and most profitable use as a dump.”

Consequently, municipal and county landfills and waste sumps from a thriving oil patch dotted the shoreline during the 1950s.

“That whole area was pretty much used as a dumping ground,” confirmed Terry Gilday of the Ventura Environmental Health Department.

Leased by the county for $25 a month from the Dominick McGrath Estate in 1944, the five-acre Oxnard Dump was later expanded to eight acres. Situated north of what was then Oxnard Road (now Channel Islands Boulevard) and east of present-day Harbor Boulevard (then McGrath Road), the cut-and-fill dump was supervised by a full-time attendant.

By 1952, the dump was described as one of the three largest of the 13 dumps identified in Ventura County in a survey conducted by the state Water Pollution Control Board, later to become the Water Quality Control Board.

In its report, the board said wastes in the Oxnard Dump posed no threat to deep ground-water basins, and recommended that it be named one of four Class I waste facilities in the county. The newly coined classification, still used today, placed no restrictions on the type of materials to be dumped.

Ventura supervisors endorsed the proposal in 1953, and the Oxnard Dump remained a Class I facility until the McGraths terminated the lease two years later, records show.

County records about the type and quantity of materials disposed of at the Mandalay site were shuffled between agencies and either discarded or misplaced, officials concede.

“The records have gone poof,” said Gilday of the Environmental Health Department, which tracks old dumps.

Many of the documents were transferred to the Ventura Regional Sanitation District, but district personnel systematically disposed of old records on four occasions after moves to new locations beginning in 1972, according to David Burkhart, the district’s assistant general manager.

In 1959, four years after the landfill closed, Duncan I. MacLeod obtained a county permit to dispose of oil-field wastes next to the former dump. Situated near the West Montalvo oil field, the MacLeod facility–known as the DIM Sump–appeared to be the largest oil sump south of the Santa Clara River in a 1962 aerial photograph.

Closed in 1964 after the five-year permit expired, the DIM Sump was visible only as a scar on the land in a 1968 aerial photograph. The DIM Sump’s file was routinely destroyed with other old records by the county in 1973.

In time, developers recognized the potential of the area’s beaches for residential development, and built a new subdivision at Oxnard Shores in the early 1960s.

After Channel Islands Harbor was completed in 1964, developers turned their attention to the sand dunes and tidelands surrounding it.

Mandalay Bay homes that first sold for $40,000 to $60,000 eventually fetched prices as high as $500,000, making the one-time wasteland Oxnard’s most expensive neighborhood.

Now, Flynn said he wants to make sure the residents have not been the victims of an environmental time bomb.

“This happened a long time ago, when we had little if any environmental controls,” Flynn said. “If there was a facility there, we need to look at what kind of mitigation measures were taken.”