Oxnard Opens New Trash Transfer, Recycling Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With its palm trees, marble floors and bronze sculptures, it is easy to confuse the massive white structure for a high-tech computer software corporation.

But the marble and bronze are recycled.

And this elegant building at Sturgiss Road and Del Norte Avenue in Oxnard is home to trash, not microchips.

Today, as the Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer Station opens for business, Oxnard city officials say its unique exterior is only one aspect that makes this waste transfer station different from others.

After fours years of planning and considerable discussion, the $25-million facility will help usher in a new era of trash collection and recycling in Ventura County.

No longer will trucks rumble through the residential streets of Oxnard to the garbage dump at Bailard, which closed Saturday.

Instead they will stop at this center where recyclable trash will be sifted out by machine and by hand. Then giant 18-wheelers will haul the remaining garbage to the expanded Toland Road Landfill, which begins taking much of western Ventura County's trash today.

The Del Norte facility will face competition for the west county's garbage, though, from a similar, private center in Ventura.

The cities of Oxnard and Port Hueneme and commercial haulers will dump their trash at the Del Norte facility. Although, city officials say they are able to pay off their debt with those customers, they would be happy to serve more communities.

The county had originally discussed creating a regional facility, but when plans fell through, Oxnard proceeded on its own.

"We were always accused of being the 900-pound gorilla," said Councilman Andres Herrera, who is also a Ventura County Regional Sanitation District board member. "We had to fend for ourselves. It was important that we did what we could to protect our ratepayers. We are ecstatic."

More than four years ago, the city of Oxnard began planning for the imminent closure of the Bailard Landfill. The dump, which opened in 1962, created an environmental hazard and made Oxnard the largest regional depository for trash in the western Ventura county.

Also, tons of recyclable materials--concrete blocks, aluminum, cardboard and glass were buried at Bailard.

In 1993, faced with shrinking landfill space and a state mandate requiring cities to recycle 25% of their garbage by 1995 and 50% by the year 2000, city and county officials conducted an 18-month review of a proposal to build a plant that would sort recyclables and haul trash generated by west county residents.

The county opted not to build a regional facility saying it was too expensive, but Oxnard decided to go ahead with its plans to build Del Norte because the city was not meeting the state's recycling requirements.

Since Oxnard has the largest population in the county, it also accumulates the most trash, Herrera said. Unlike other cities, 60% of the waste in Oxnard is commercial and industrial, with only 40% of it residential.

"We needed to make sure our needs were met," said Herrera.

The west county already had one such facility: Gold Coast Recycling Center Inc. in Ventura, which serves Fillmore, Ojai, Moorpark, Carpinteria, Camarillo and Santa Paula. To meet the increased demand for recycling, Gold Coast is undergoing an expansion.

Oxnard decided it needed a facility of its own and hoped to find enough customers.

"It was a gamble," said Ruben Mesa of the city's solid waste division. "That is why we built it with a debt service that the city could afford."

For now, fees will remain the same, with Oxnard residents paying an average of $20 a month for trash service. Other Del Norte customers--businesses and commercial haulers--will pay $33.50 a ton, the same rate charged at Bailard.

The city has given its customers a 60- to 90-day trial period before they sign a contract obligating them to bring their trash to the facility, Mesa said. He hopes the first days of operation will impress them sufficiently to keep them on board.

Owned by the city of Oxnard, but managed by Los Angeles-based BLT Enterprises, the Del Norte plant will not only accept recyclables and waste but also hazardous household materials like paint and oil at no charge to customers.

Up to 1,500 tons of trash can be processed at the facility every day, Mesa said. The trash will be transferred to Toland Landfill by eight trucks, each capable of holding up to 24 tons, or three times the amount the older, smaller garbage haulers could carry.

The facility is set on 16 acres of former farmland, away from residential areas and with easy access to the Ventura Freeway and gas stations. It was built near railroad tracks so that the trash could one day be hauled by rail rather than by truck, Mesa said.

This operation, Mesa said, will be efficient and environmentally progressive because it will also serve as an education center for children and adults.

Inside the building, visitors can learn about recycling and composting and watch the process occurring on large video screens. The monitors will show workers sifting through garbage for recyclable materials and a giant room where trash drops through the floor into a waiting truck.

City officials are eager to see the facility begin operating, saying it has been a long and at times difficult road.

"This is a very important day for the city," Mayor Manuel Lopez said.

Referring to the aborted county plans to build a single regional facility, he added: "You just have to go with reality and do the best with what you have. There is always an ideal and a possible. This was the possible we were able to attain."

Competition, added County Supervisor John K. Flynn, is not necessarily bad.

"I don't think it really matters," said Flynn, who originally voiced concerns over both facilities competing for trash. "I am looking forward to the day when we can recycle everything and stop taking trash to landfills. Then two facilities will certainly not be too many."

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