IT IS AN unimaginably incongruous juxtaposition.
Face north and the sorry spectacle of the former Halaco metal recycling facility at Ormond Beach in South Oxnard makes you wince. Crumbling, toxic, graffiti covered and forlorn, it has to be the biggest eyesore in Southern California.
Face south and you find the restful solace of one of the few remaining coastal wetlands in the state. "We have just 4 1/2 percent of our coastal wetlands left, " said Jean Rountree of the Beacon Foundation. "This is out of thousands and thousands of acres lost to industry and development." She'd like to see the area become a haven for birders and environmental tourists one day.
Yet next to this environmentally sensitive site is a man-made blunder. Highly toxic and abandoned in 2004, the Halaco site will cost between $20-50 million to clean up, Allen Sanders of the Ormond Beach Observers told me. As I talked to Sanders and Paul Felix of Oxnard at the site, a charming little bird flew overhead.
"He probably has three eyes," Felix joked.
But Ormond Beach is no laughing matter. I've read plenty about the Halaco site. But until you've seen it for yourself, it doesn't really hit home. Now listed as a Superfund hazardous cleanup area, it could be eligible for federal stimulus funds.
NEXT TO THE DECAYING building sits a mountainous slag heap filled with toxic material. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a poisonous alphabet soup of elevated levels of aluminum, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, magnesium, manganese, nickel, thorium, and zinc is leeching into both underlying groundwater and sediments in the Oxnard Industrial Drain.
Removing it will be an arduous task, Sanders acknowledged. And just where do you move a mountain of toxic sludge to? Sanders shook his head.
In 2007 a warning was issued to residents that elevated levels of radiation were coming from the fenced-off property.
Halaco, which declared bankruptcy in 2002, also lost a civil complaint alleging that it had illegally disposed of used oil by burning it in its smelting furnace or pouring it over scrap metal which made its way into on-site settling ponds.
You have to wonder what the City of Oxnard was thinking about in 1965 when they allowed this to be built.
A little further down the road is the former Edison, now Reliant, facility, which has its own toxic issues. Nearby, a developer has plans to build even more houses.
Despite all this, the National Audubon Society lists Ormond Beach as one of the most important bird areas in California. For a bird lover, it's a treat to look out at the lagoon. The area is home to Least Terns and Snowy Plover. The sand is covered in native vegetation, some in spring flower.
A delight and a disgust, Ormond Beach is testament to the stupidity of mankind and the resiliency of the natural world.