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More Violations Found at Closed Animal Sanctuary

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State and county investigators have turned up more than a dozen new violations at the Wildlife Waystation, but deferred additional penalties to give the beleaguered wild animal sanctuary a chance to solve its problems, officials said Thursday.

A nine-agency inspection team released a report Thursday outlining scores of safety and environmental violations, including those cited two months ago by the state Department of Fish and Game in closing the sanctuary to human visitors and new animals.

Most of the new violations focus on illegal housing for about 70 employees that has no running water and an incomplete septic system. In one instance during a May 12 inspection, investigators discovered a downed, live electric wire allowed to hang in dry brush, the report said.

Citing the valuable service the Wildlife Waystation provides, Lari Sheehan, a county official who oversees unincorporated areas, said the agencies decided to give the sanctuary a chance to comply with regulations rather than impose additional sanctions.

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“We are waiting for the Wildlife Waystation to get back to us and let us know what they can do and when they can do it,” Sheehan said. “We’re not going to brush anything under the carpet, but the Waystation is providing an important service. Rather than going in and stomping all over the place, we are trying to provide a way so they can continue to provide that service and come into compliance.”

Despite the new allegations, Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano said department officials are impressed with caging and water improvements at the Waystation and may relax some restrictions, though he gave no time frame.

Such a move might allow the sanctuary to resume accepting small injured animals for rehabilitation, but would not permit the facility to again accept larger animals or to welcome public tours, he said.

Under the direction of Ollie Blanning, a senior deputy to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, regulators from the Los Angeles County departments of Health, Public Works, Fire, the county counsel’s office, Building Safety, Animal Care and Control and Regional Planning, as well as the state Regional Water Quality Control Board and Housing and Community Development Department, inspected the 120-acre compound on May 12.

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“We hoped in the committee that everyone who had a concern would be included,” Blanning said. “I think it is an exhaustive look at the Waystation.”

Blanning serves as an unpaid director of the Wildlife Waystation, but denied that her dual roles present a conflict of interest.

Martine Colette, founder and director of the Wildlife Waystation, received the agencies’ reports a week after the May 12 inspection. On Thursday she said she has not yet analyzed the 16 pages of violations and recommendations.

Some of the costly requirements, such as installation of a water treatment system, might take a year to complete, she said.

“I need to have the opportunity to raise money; we don’t just have it sitting in the bank,” Colette said. “The city wants us to reopen. The county wants us to reopen. Nobody is saying we don’t want to fix the problems.”

In an unrelated matter, Colette was convicted on May 26 of a criminal misdemeanor in Arizona for illegally transporting a tiger in February, said David Boyd, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish.

A judge sentenced Colette to probation, which complicates her plans to operate a for-profit wild animal ranch near the Arizona-California border, Boyd said.

Arizona’s Game and Fish Department denied Colette’s application for a zoo permit on May 12 because the proposed site is zoned for residential development and her idea of a combination transitional sanctuary and exhibition park does not meet Arizona’s definition of a zoo, Boyd said.

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Colette said she plans to appeal the permit denial, and consider other locations. The Tribal Council of the Mojave Nation is scheduled to visit the Wildlife Waystation before deciding whether to allow Colette to build the new park, Wilderness Edge, on a reservation at the banks of the Colorado River.


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