Sept. 5, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
More legal battles are hurling downstream for Larry Mosler and the Ojai Rock Quarry. In May, the Ventura County Planning Commission voted to let Mosler continue operating the quarry under his current conditional use permit and denied a Stop the Trucks! Coalition request for an appeal of that decision.
Now, Mosler’s company, Gralar LLC, faces a lawsuit from two environmental groups that claim the quarry has violated the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBC) and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) filed a suit Wednesday in federal court alleging “the facility has yet to develop measures to effectively reduce harmful sediment discharges and prevent periodic landslides from washing down quarry slopes into North Fork Matilija Creek,” according to a press release from SBC.
Kira Redmond, SBC executive director, added, “Sediment is a major pollutant. It impairs the water quality, impairs the habitat for fish.”
SBC and EDC also say the Ventura River Watershed — which includes Matilija Creek — is habitat for the endangered steelhead trout. They claim the quarry has deficient storm water management that results in chronic pollution discharges that harm the rare fish.
Mosler called the lawsuit a “shakedown,” and said he can’t afford to implement the measures the EDC and SBC are asking for, nor is he willing to give them his financial records. Further, he said the lawsuit will force him to file for bankruptcy.
“There’s no question about it,” Mosler said. “For a federal lawsuit, I’d have to come up with at least $50,000 for a retainer (for an attorney). I just don’t have that.”
The two groups have proposed that Mosler take several steps to reduce the sediment that gets into the Ventura River, including hiring a hydrologist to determine how much runoff is coming from his property; constructing a water treatment plant to remove pollutants before they make it to the Lower North Fork of Matilija Creek; constructing a truck washing facility so quarry trucks don’t track dirt onto Maricopa Highway and minimizing runoff by covering areas not currently being mined.
The SBC and EDC claim they have been taking water samples around the quarry since 2001. As a result of their findings, they have been trying to come to an agreement with Mosler, who has owned the quarry since 2005. They wanted to create what Redmond called a “phased approach” to correcting the quarry’s alleged violations and avoid potential litigation. “We did outreach to the facility owner as well as various regulatory boards,” Redmond said. “As we typically do, we tried to work cooperatively with a problematic facility to try to get a fix that doesn’t require litigation.”
Although the Clean Water Act falls under the umbrella of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it has delegated the task of enforcement to the state of California. In the Ventura River Watershed, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is in charge of establishing best practices and enforcement. However, regulatory agencies are strapped financially, Redmond said, which is why groups like hers exist.
“We don’t file lawsuits very often,” she said. “This is not something we enjoy doing, or really have the resources to be doing.”
She added that SBC and EDC do not want Mosler to go bankrupt, because then, “The federal government would be stuck with the clean-up bill … that’s really not what we want. We hope that there’s a middle ground here.”
Mosler said he doubts it. “This is a shakedown … Per our water tests, the only ‘pollutant’ that goes into that creek when we have an excessive rain that overflows my retention basins is silt,” Mosler asserted. “No hydrocarbons, no carcinogens or anything. It’s the same stuff that comes off all the surrounding hills naturally. When it rains, am I the only place where any silt comes down (into the river)? I don’t think so.”
No date has been set for a hearing on the matter.