Application submitted to county to reopen notorious Santa Clara Waste Water plant

May 10, 2019

An application was submitted to the Ventura County Planning Department to for a new operator to reopen the notorious Santa Clara Waste Water Treatment plant, the Mission Rock Road facility that exploded into toxic flames almost five years ago.

An application was submitted to the Ventura County Planning Department to for a new operator to reopen the notorious Santa Clara Waste Water Treatment plant, the Mission Rock Road facility that exploded into toxic flames almost five years ago.

The applicant, Ri-Nu Environmental Services, had close business ties to the previous owner of the plant as well as its top executive, who were arrested and prosecuted for the Nov. 18, 2014 fire and explosions.
Nine company officials and employees as well as the corporate entities tied to Santa Clara Waste Water faced a variety of felony criminal charges stemming from the explosion at the wastewater facility, located at west of Santa Paula.
More than 50 people were injured either from the initial blast or from exposure to toxic chemicals, including three Santa Paula Fire Fighters; two were forced into retirement due to their injuries. A city of Santa Paula public works employee that later was exposed to the fire department’s contaminated engine was also harmed and later forced into retirement due to respiratory illness and other effects.
At about 3:45 a.m., a still unknown chemical blew out of the back of a vacuum truck, spewing the substance throughout the area. Although located in the unincorporated area, Santa Paula Fire was first on the scene and told by a company employee that the material was harmless sewage. The firefighters had to walk through the gooey liquid to reach a victim who had been severely injured. Ventura County Fire also responded, and as the substance dried the boots of firefighters who had walked in it started to ignite. When Santa Paula firefighters tried to move their engine, the tires exploded and toxic smoke engulfed them in the cab.
A toxic cloud formed over the facility that ignited and spread to chemicals stored on the ground in totes. The cloud grew to three-miles in length and Highway 126 was closed; those within a half-mile of the plant, including Briggs School, were evacuated while sheltering in place was ordered for those living within a four-mile radius of the explosion site.
The explosion received national media attention as representatives from county, state and federal agencies — including Homeland Security — set up a camp in a parking that remained open until January.
In August 2015, at the conclusion of a three-week grand jury investigation where more than 67 witnesses testified — or in the case of SCWW personnel, refused to testify – company officials and employees were arrested and with the corporate entities they were charged with 71 felonies and misdemeanors. The charges ranged from creating a threat to public health and safety, conspiracy to dispose of hazardous waste, conspiracy to commit a crime, failure to warn of serious concealed danger, handling hazardous waste with reckless disregard to withholding information regarding a substantial threat to public safety and causing impairment to an employee’s body, among others that included filing false documents and forgery.
Timothy J. Koziol of applicant Ri-Nu has been making the rounds in the Santa Paula, meeting with councilmembers along with the company’s consultant Sandy Smith — a former Ventura City Councilman — of Sespe Consulting.
Koziol’s company, according to Ventura County Planning Commission’s notice, “is seeking the reinstatement and modification to the Conditional Use Permit 960 to authorize the continued operation of, expansion of, and various operational changes to the existing non-hazardous Community Sewage Treatment Facility.”
There is no existing non-hazardous treatment facility as Santa Clara Waste Water has been shut down since the explosion. There were several stabs to reopen the facility; in March 2015, an Oxnard Chamber of Commerce “Open House” was staged and visitors given hardhats to tour the grounds.
In a June 2010 story it was noted that General Environmental Management Inc., which the article stated owned and operated Southern California Waste Water the mother ship of SCWW, had signed an exclusive marketing agreement for Petromax.
The article noted that “CEO of GEVI, Timothy J. Koziol,” called this alternate technology useful in both fracking and destroying oil deposits in tanks.
The CSO of GEVI was Doug Edwards, and he encountered further criminal charges when it was learned in March 2016, about 18 months following the explosion, that unreported totes of highly dangerous Petromax were concealed at SCWW…and even had been stored illegally on property leased from the city adjoining a residential area where it had been moved temporarily.
Also charged in that incident was SCWW CEO William Mitzel, who had replaced Edwards after the explosion when he became chairman of the board.
An August 2009 article about GEVI’s management team noted that Timothy J. Koziol was CEO and Chairman and Bill Mitzel the COO and President. The environmental document to reopen the plant is out for review until June 6.
In many people’s minds the blast not only rocked the waste facility but also the system of oversight of such processing facilities when it was learned that neighbors had been reporting problems at SCWW for a year before the explosion.
“We’re concerned for our safety,” said a nearby business owner and resident who asked that their name be withheld.
At the very least, “Our quality of life will be in question,” from negative impacts ranging from 24-hour traffic experienced before when the plant was operating, noise, “horrible odors,” and road use.
“Our safety will also be in question because we don’t trust that what they do on site is what they are supposed to do — look what happened back in 2014…who will monitor their activity? We don’t need another situation created like before.”

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