An abandoned Oxnard oceanfront foundry next to an environmentally sensitive lagoon was one of seven polluted sites nationwide added Wednesday to the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund cleanup list.
The action means that the former Halaco Engineering site adjacent to the Ormond Beach wetlands will be in line for a federally directed environmental overhaul under the program, which deals with the nation's most hazardous waste sites. No deadline has been set for the work, however, and projects often linger on the Superfund list for years.
Wayne Praskins, the regional EPA manager who would oversee the Halaco project, has said it would take at least two years just to determine what needs to be done to make the property safe for people and wildlife. According to preliminary estimates, cleaning up the slag heap could cost more than $150 million.
Early last year, state regulators asked the EPA to assume control of the work on the 43-acre site at the south end of Perkins Road. The Halaco smelting plant operated from 1965 until late 2004, after the metals recycling company filed for bankruptcy.
"This is great news," said Oxnard Vice Mayor Dean Maulhardt. "It will obviously help us in the cleanup process. It's still the owner of Halaco's responsibility to clean it up, but to the extent they're not doing it, this really helps.
"Putting it on this list validates what we've been saying all along -- that it needs to be cleaned up," he added.
Given the uncertain timing of the work, however, lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) urged the EPA to move swiftly. In a statement, she said doing so is critical "to ensure the safety of the families living in Oxnard."
Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, who persuaded her board colleagues to support the federal designation, said her aim now is to "see how we can push our way to the top of the list" of future Superfund projects.
"Halaco is in a prime coastal area and surrounded by residential uses," Long said. "I would hope that would bump us up to the top of the list."
Halaco was the only California site added to the Superfund list. In early June, EPA contractors discovered an unknown amount of the radioactive metal thorium under a former storage area next to the smelter building.
Radiation levels measured up to 100 times greater than normal, although that is still considered "low level" and was said to pose no immediate risk to people or wildlife.
The EPA plans a campaign to educate the public about the potential dangers at Halaco and to warn against trespassing at the site.
As part of that effort, a public meeting is scheduled for Monday to provide updated information and to discuss development of a comprehensive cleanup plan.
The meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. at the South Oxnard Community Center, 200 E. Bard Road.