Quake Fault, Wetlands Cause Concern : Weigh Station Hits Environmental Snag

Times Staff Writer

A proposed weigh station in western Ventura County aimed at catching truckers who improperly haul hazardous waste up U.S. 101 has run into environmental trouble of its own.

County planners, who had originally recommended approval of the 12.5-acre project near La Conchita, this week withdrew their support until the state Department of Transportation addresses concerns raised recently about a nearby earthquake fault and the facility's impact on surrounding wetlands.

"Without that information, we've changed our recommendation from approval to denial," said Kelly Scoles, a county staff planner.

A spokesman for Caltrans, which has been authorized by the Legislature to build the $4.3-million station, said that the agency would seek to postpone a Planning Commission hearing scheduled for today until those issues could be studied.

"We hope this isn't a big snag," said Jack Hallin, chief of project development for the region. "We still think it's a good site, the best site for the project."

Local Support

The concept of a hazardous-waste station that would intercept trucks headed to northern Santa Barbara County--home to the only dump for toxic materials in Southern California--has been applauded by local environmentalists since Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria) wrote the enabling legislation in 1985.

The weigh station atop the Conejo Grade in Newbury Park is the only permanent inspection site between Los Angeles and the Casmalia dump, and it has long been believed that truck drivers use routes such as 23, 118 and 126 to avoid the checkpoint.

Since all of those highways meet the 101 freeway north of the Conejo scales, Caltrans looked to the area past Ventura, along the Rincon, to build the hazardous-waste station. The plan also called for a 1,800-square-foot basin that would be the state's first containment area for trucks leaking hazardous loads.

Concern About Impact

But the proposal to put such a facility alongside the freeway's northbound lanes about a mile south of Seacliff also sparked concerns about the impact of the station on its coastal surroundings.

To satisfy residents of the expensive oceanfront homes along California 1, Caltrans agreed to post signs warning truck drivers that it would be illegal to bypass the inspection station by taking the old coastal route. A video camera aimed at the old road would also be mounted at the facility to film any offenders.

Caltrans said that any other environmental impact could also be minimized, a position that county planners accepted when they recommended approval of the facility at an April 13 meeting of the Planning Commission.

At the meeting, however, several local environmental groups as well as the California Coastal Commission, which oversees development along the state's 1,000-mile coastline, requested that a decision be put off until additional concerns could be addressed.

Sensitive Area

An active earthquake fault that runs below the site has not been adequately examined, they contended. The surrounding wetlands, they added, are home to many animals, a stream, rare plant life and other sensitive vegetation.

"The area has biological value that can't be dismissed," said Wayne R. Ferren Jr., curator of the herbarium at UC Santa Barbara, who was hired by the Coastal Commission to study the site.

All of which compelled county planners to change their minds and ask Caltrans to re-examine the proposed location.

"We know there will still be doubters out there," Caltrans spokesman Hallin said. "But we're willing to take another look and see if we can lay to rest, once and for all, some of those concerns."

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