Nuns Hope for Deliverance From Dump : Environment: Sister Servants of Mary will present county supervisors with a petition urging the closure of neighboring Bailard Landfill or relocation of their convent at public expense.
When Ventura County officials convene Tuesday to settle the fate of the Bailard Landfill, they will be confronted by an emerging political force intent on reversing current solid waste plans: the nuns of Sister Servants of Mary.
Their convent sits only about 500 feet away from the dump on Oxnard’s western edge. Fed up with noise, odor and dust from the landfill, the sisters have hired a lawyer to ensure that the county looks out for their interests.
On Tuesday, they will deliver to supervisors a petition with more than 3,000 signatures demanding that the landfill be closed or the convent be relocated at county expense.
“The bottom line is that the supervisors have a legal responsibility and a moral responsibility to the people in their community,” said Jodi Rupp, an administrator at a Newbury Park nursing home run by the Catholic order.
“They were elected to take care of the public,” Rupp added. “Laws must be justified by more than the will of the majority. They must rest on righteousness and consider the concerns of the individual.”
The brewing legal battle is the latest wrinkle in a long-running effort to extend the life of the landfill another three years.
The permit to operate the dump north of Gonzales Road and west of Victoria Avenue expired in December. Area residents and the city of Oxnard have long urged closure of the landfill as soon as possible.
But with the June defeat of a proposal to open a new landfill in Weldon Canyon near Ojai, waste officials say the west end of the county has few other options for dumping the 1,000 tons of trash it produces each day.
“The city opposes the continued operation of that facility,” said Oxnard City Councilman Andres Herrera, the city’s representative on the county’s waste commission. “But there are certain realities we have to face. Where is the trash going to go if we close Bailard?”
With that in mind, the Ventura County Planning Commission earlier this month voted to extend the landfill until May 30, 1997, or to the future date when the landfill is filled, whichever comes first. The landfill will be considered full when it either accumulates 3.15 billion tons of trash or when its wall of refuse reaches 119 feet high.
If approved by supervisors, the extension would next be considered by the Local Enforcement Agency, which makes recommendations to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
The permit extension appeared easily on its way to approval at the county level until the nuns spoke out, said Stanley E. Cohen, an Oxnard-based attorney who is representing them.
“Everything was going along very smoothly; at least all of the issues that were being dealt with were other than those that affected the sisters,” Cohen said.
Some of the 22 nuns, who range in age from 19 to 94, say they are suffering health problems they attribute to the landfill, he said.
“I think the board needs to be empathetic to the health plight and the environmental plight that these 22 nuns face,” Cohen said. “If they want to have a landfill, maybe they better do something about getting the sisters out of there.”
Supervisor Vicky Howard said she has asked for more information on the health concerns raised by the nuns.
“It certainly is a matter for consideration,” she said. “I’ve asked them to verify for me any health problems they have encountered that could be attributable to the landfill site.”
Supervisor John K. Flynn said he and other parishioners were asked Feb. 20 to sign a petition in support of the nuns at Santa Clara Church.
“The nuns have raised an issue in the 11th hour, that’s for sure,” said Flynn, who didn’t sign the petition to avoid a conflict of interest. “But they are pretty close to the landfill. I think it has to be treated seriously.”
But even if the issue is resolved and the permit extension is granted, Howard and Flynn said they will continue to press for a long-term solution to the county’s trash problems.
“We are a county with a landfill on the west end that may be extended for three years, but with no plan in place to deal with this issue in the future,” Flynn said. “We are going to have to put the garbage someplace. We better start making plans for the very near future.”