BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer email@example.com
A judge on Monday prodded a Lamont composting company to move forward with a county-ordered environmental review but rejected requests that he shut down or otherwise intervene in the operation pending final resolution of the case.
Kern County Superior Court Judge J. Eric Bradshaw called on county lawyers to draft and return by Feb. 17 a set of conditions that essentially turn back the clock to July 2010. That's when county supervisors ordered the company, Community Recycling & Resource Recovery Inc., to pay for its first environmental review of the operation and come up with clear definitions of what kinds of waste the company can accept and process.
Monday's hearing was the second court date in a lawsuit filed by the company and its landlord and fellow plaintiff, the Lamont Public Utility District. They are appealing a Nov. 15 decision by the county Board of Supervisors to revoke the company's operating permit over various land use violations. The vote was at least partially inspired by the October deaths of two brothers believed to have inhaled fatal doses of toxic gas at the facility.
At the case's opening court date, on Nov. 29, Bradshaw imposed a stay that temporarily reversed the board's vote.
One of Bradshaw's more notable decisions Monday was to deny the county's request that he force the utility district to begin preparing a "Plan B" in case the company loses its case and must shut down.
The sewer district has argued that without Community Recycling continuing to accept its sewer water totaling more than 1 million gallons a day of sewer water, the waste could overflow onto nearby highways, thereby creating a threat to public health. The composting company uses the waste to irrigate piles of compost that are later sold to farmers as a soil amendment.
The utility district's attorney, Larry Peake, argued Monday that preparing an alternative plan for disposing of the sewer water would be expensive and time-consuming. He further asserted that the court lacked the jurisdiction to force such a study.
Among the conditions expected to be laid out in Bradshaw's revised stay is a near-term deadline for Community Recycling to finish negotiating and sign an order for the environmental review, expected to cost the company $295,097.
"I want a specific date" for finalizing plans for the review, the judge said.
Deputy County Counsel Charles Collins said the ruling was effectively "a matter of maintaining the status quo." He added that he expects to be able to collaborate with Community Recycling's lawyers toward a mutually acceptable set of operating conditions.
An attorney for the company, Richard Zimmer, agreed that the two parties would work together, and that the new conditions would protect the public, the company and the 100 or so jobs at the site.
Bradshaw told parties in the case that he had decided not to force Community Recycling to post a bond that could fund tighter enforcement at the property. The judge emphasized that he did not want to be punitive at this stage in the case.
Cal-OSHA and the state labor commissioner continue to investigate the two brothers' deaths.