What's next for Community Recycling after judge's order?

What's next for Community Recycling after judge's order? »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A judge on Tuesday put the order to shut down Community Recycling on hold, but what's next for the controversial facility?

Two workers died there in October, and county staff complained about a string of violations, leading Kern County Supervisors to revoke the Community Recycling's conditional use permit.

But, when Community Recycling shuts down, that also leaves the Lamont Public Utilities Commission with no place to put waste sewage water.

That's why the district and the company both sued the county, and they now have more time to stay in operation at least until the next court hearing in January.

"Buying another 60 days or so, that only extends for 60 days the point in time that I have no alternative," LPUD attorney Larry Peake said. The district says they don't have capacity to handle the sewage water, which has been spread on the materials composting at Community Recycling.

Kern County Supervisor Karen Goh told Eyewitness News the next hearing gives the county more time to prepare their arguments about why Community Recycling must be shut down.

The workers killed were brothers who were apparently overcome by toxic fumes in a drainage pipe at the site.

Now that the judge has issued a "temporary stay" on the shut-down order, the facility can operate -- but under all the requirements that were in place before the Board voted to revoke the permit.

"The company is observing all safety rules and regulations," Community Recycling attorney Mark Smith told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.

Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza told Eyewitness News by e-mail on Wednesday their investigation continues into the worker deaths, and their order to keep everyone away from the drain system is still in effect.

As for safety concerns, the Lamont district said they have offered to help.

"One of the things we've suggested to the County of Kern, for example, is that Lamont itself -- the Public Utilities District -- will pay for a county employee to be there full-time on site at Community Recycling," attorney Peake said. "To make sure any concerns the county has are accomplished and addressed."

Eyewitness News asked Kern County Engineering department head Chuck Lackey about that suggestion. Lackey said the county has heard that offer, but it hasn't been made formally.

The LPUD owns the land the recycling operation uses, asked if another company could run it instead -- Peake said they've met with several possible companies.

Peake told Eyewitness News he met with a large recycling company just Wednesday morning, but declined to name it. He asserted there are "multiple obstacles" to any other company taking over the operation.

Peake also said there would be even more restrictions if the utility district itself wanted to run the recycling operation instead of a private company.

But, he said the rows of compost are the best way to handle the sewage waste, saying that material soaks up the waste water like a sponge.

The Lamont Utility District says they have some 2.5 million gallons a day of sewage water that must be handled, and they are also trying to find other farmland where it could be used on certain crops.

But, Peake said that can only happen on fields were crops are grown that won't end up being consumed by people.

Still, the district does own the land where the recycling operation has been run.

"The Lamont PUD does own the property, and it's so important for them to have a contingency plan," Supervisor Goh told Eyewitness News. "Any responsible owner would, of course, have a contingency plan."

Goh said the county has continued working with the LPUD, trying to find solutions for the sewage water.

From the engineering department, Chuck Lackey said they will monitor the recycling operation while it continues to run until the issue ends up back in court on January 24.

Community Recycling attorney Mark Smith said the company will ask that a stay on the closure remains in effect as long as the court is reviewing the order to shut down.

From the Lamont utility district, lawyer Larry Peake said they have been "aggressively" looking for solutions.

Goh said the county will continue working with the district.

"But, we emphasized to the Lamont PUD the importance of them taking the lead to find the appropriate solution," Goh said. "For the good of their community."