Oxnard’s largest thorn in the side of environmentalists, the Halaco Superfund site, is on course to a change in ownership, thanks in part to a failure to pay taxes.
The long-sought-after site, home of hazardous remnants from the site’s former self as a troubled metal recycling plant, is a missing piece in the fight to reshape Ormond Beach back into its original, natural state as a lagoon.
The site was part of a collection of properties going up under a sealed-bid sale, in which interested parties bid privately. The 11-acre property, formerly the area where Halaco Engineering conducted smelting operations, is only a third of the entirety of the site and is the only portion that remained in the hands of the Haack family until recently, when the county treasurer’s office took control after a five-year tax delinquency.
“It’s our intent to not have it go to auction, and we think that we’re barred from selling it at auction because it’s a superfund [site],” said County Treasurer/Tax Collector Steven Hintz. “But if entitled bidders did what was necessary by filing an objection to the sale and offered a bid of their own, then the property could change.”
On Aug. 29, the city of Oxnard did just that by filing an objection to the sale, which puts the site in limbo until the City Council reconvenes on Sept. 10. Until then, city staff will work to devise a plan to present to the council in order to get the go-ahead for the purchase of the site.
After being declared a superfund site by the EPA in 2007, the industrial building on the Halaco site was demolished, but a sizable amount of waste still remains in the southeast corner of the property. The adjacent 26 acres, on which the infamous slag heaps are still present, were bought by Alpha and Omega Development LLC in 2006, which has remained silent about any plans to restore the property.
The auction would have made the sale available only to those whose land is contiguous to the site, including the city of Oxnard and the Nature Conservancy.
“It’s an attractive nuisance, a lot of stuff going down there that shouldn’t,” said Oxnard City Councilman Bryan McDonald. “From the city side, there’s a lot that we could do with it.”
The site falls within the Ormond Beach preserve, a long-disputed stretch of beach that, for decades, has been the subject of contention over usage and preservation.
Al Sanders, president of the Ormond Beach Observers and the chief strategist for Earth Alert, thinks the sell will benefit the area.
“I think they’ve hit upon a possible solution, which is the city of Oxnard purchasing that land and guaranteeing that it has a strong voice in the ultimate disposition of that area,” said Sanders. “Over the years, there have been a lot of citizens who have wanted to see a major restoration project and this could be an opportunity to intervene on behalf of nature and the people of Oxnard.”
The California Coastal Conservancy has given grants to the Nature Conservancy and other organizations to purchase land surrounding the Halaco site in the past in an effort to reclaim polluted land due to years of agricultural and industrial activities, but a major part of that restoration requires acquisition of the Halaco site itself.
“The Coastal Conservancy has not made any major moves over the last decade,” said Sanders regarding Ormond Beach. “Nor has the city. It has the potential of being a good move, but we could end up having to battle over the ultimate disposition of the area.”
Wayne Praskins, project manager with the Environmental Protection Agency, has been managing the cleanup of the site since 2006, when the state of California requested assistance with removing the toxic waste and debris.
“We’ve not yet addressed the waste material on the property,” said Praskins. “If the county thought it was appropriate to put the property up for sale, we will work with whoever owns the property.”
With the property comes the responsibility to reimburse the EPA for work done on the site dating back to March of 2007. Praskins couldn’t say what the total cost would be, but the county treasurer originally listed the site at a minimum bid of $241,800.
“We’re committed to cleaning up the site regardless of who owns it,” said Praskins.
Peter Brand at the Coastal Conservancy believes that the city of Oxnard shares his organization’s ideals for the Ormond Beach area. Brand, who has been involved with the area for 15 years, says that the Halaco site is important to the restoration of the coastal lagoon.
“The Oxnard industrial terrain, which used to be a creek, is channelized through the middle of that property,” said Brand. “The preferred plan includes acquisition of that area and restoring the old coastal lagoon. It’s very doable since the water that used to flow through that area could flow again. That’s essentially what it wants to do.”
Brand said he believes that the city of Oxnard is in line with the goals of the restoration project.
“Everything the city has done over the last few years has been supportive of the Ormond Beach restoration plan. We’re all headed in the same direction,” Brand said.
“The most important thing to do is to stop the illegal activity going on there,” said McDonald, who agrees with the Coastal Conservancy’s ideals. “We work with the conservancy on other issues and have very good lines of communications, I’m sure they know what we’re going for.”