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    County Public Works Department, Water Resources Division Resolves Liability Related to Toro Canyon Oil Water Separator

    The Santa Barbara County Department of Public Works, Water Resources Division has resolved all criminal charges against the Division stemming from the January 2021 – July 2021 and January 2023 oil discharges from the Toro Canyon Oil Water Separator.

    The oil at issue is from a natural seepage well built by the Occidental Mining and Petroleum Corp. in 1882. In 1997, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency retrofitted the site to prevent seepage by building the existing oil and water separator facility at the historic oil seep. The facility is located in an area difficult to access on a steep hill slope near Toro Canyon Creek (located in the Summerland/Carpinteria area) that also has been impacted by fire and debris flows. The County has monitored the EPA-designed facility since 2009.

    November 29, 2023, the Water Resources Division pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to these incidents and agreed to pay a $15,000 criminal fine for the Division and one year of unsupervised probation. The Division and District Attorney’s Office also resolved any potential civil liability through the filing of a stipulated judgment, resulting in the payment of $300,000 toward supplemental environmental projects, $375,000 in civil penalties, and $75,000 towards a consultant that will advise on future statutory and regulatory compliance at the facility. The supplemental environmental projects will be to support the efforts in Santa Barbara County of the Well Done Foundation, Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute, and Santa Barbara County Natural History Museum Sea Center. The penalties will be paid to certain funds of various regulatory agencies, including the District Attorney’s Office, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, and Santa Barbara County Certified Unified Program Agency.

    The County regrets that the oil water separator malfunctioned resulting in impacts to the immediate surrounding area.  Although the County is disappointed that these events resulted in criminal charges, this resolution will remove the legal uncertainty regarding liability and allow the County to focus on a replacement facility for the existing EPA-designed facility. Construction of the new facility currently is underway.

    The replacement facility is being constructed in accordance with current regulatory standards and should provide additional protections against future oil discharges. The County has budgeted $3.72 million to complete the Toro Canyon Oil Water Separator Replacement Project. The County Board of Supervisors awarded a construction contract for the replacement in the amount of $2.22 million. The additional funding is required to cover expenditures for construction, construction management, and staff labor through project completion. It is being paid for by the Public Works Project Clean Water General Fund. The replacement facility is intended to be in place by Summer of 2024.

    Chair of the Board of Supervisors Das Williams stated, “Replacing this facility protects the County against future discharges in Toro Canyon and is the right thing to do. The County is committed to best safeguarding our community and natural resources in Toro Canyon and throughout the County.”



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