Board issues permit to Malibu Lumber

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Enviro groups are outraged by the issuance of the permit. The Lumber mall’s stores are projected to open the first week of February.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a temporary wastewater discharge permit to the Malibu Lumber mall Thursday last week that will allow the shopping center’s retail stores to open for business before its restaurant tenants move in. The Malibu Lumber retail center is tentatively scheduled to open the first week of February.

Board members were hesitant about issuing the wastewater discharge permit, but after hours of testimony by permit supporters and by those opposed to it at the meeting in Simi Valley’s City Hall, they felt it was a fair compromise between many environmental and economic concerns. A decision had to be made at the meeting, as the water board will not convene again until February. The dilemma the board faced is that no permit issued would have left the Malibu Lumber mall empty until at least spring, leaving the city without revenue for funding the Legacy Park Project and for wastewater treatment plans for the area. However, the board still had concerns about any additional wastewater discharge into the Civic Center area.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s director of Water Quality, noted that the issuance of the permit is a two-headed sword.

“On one hand you could say there shouldn’t have been any waste discharge requirements adopted for the Malibu Lumber yard because of the chronic water quality issues in the Civic Center area, and also because of the Regional Board’s decision last month to pursue a moratorium in the area,” James said. “However, if they [Malibu Lumber yard] hadn’t gotten a permit, then the city wouldn’t be getting this funding for Legacy Park, another big water quality improvement project.”

The moratorium James spoke of involves the cancellation of a memorandum of understanding between the city and the regional water board that gives the city of Malibu the authority to issue wastewater permits for projects that would discharge less than 2,000 gallons wastewater per day. It was cancelled after the city issued a permit to Malibu Lumber, which regional water said it was not allowed to do because the project, with the restaurants, would eventually discharge more than that amount. The board has since agreed to work with the city on perhaps renegotiating the memorandum.

To alleviate concerns, the board shortened the originally proposed permit from five to three years, added that phosphorus levels be limited and changed all monitoring reports from quarterly to monthly. Malibu Lumber must limit its wastewater discharge to 12,000 gallons per day and conduct daily monitoring for the first six months from the permit issuance date. Groundwater monitoring for effluent water quality was changed to weekly.

Also within the first six months from the permit issuance date, a recycled irrigation system and groundwater monitoring wells must be installed for Legacy Park.

Mark Gold, executive president of environmental organization Heal the Bay, spoke at the meeting and called the permit a “travesty.” He advised the board against granting it because, among other reasons, the public has not received an engineering report of the Malibu Lumber wastewater treatment system. The impacts of the system are unknown, he said, and it is doubtful that the wastewater treatment system is capable of performing results claimed by Malibu Lumber LLC.

“The project is nearly completed,” Gold said to the board. “It is ridiculous and illegal that you are making a WDR [wastewater discharge requirement] issuance now. You should have done it before.”

Gene Lucero, a lawyer representing Malibu Lumber LLC, said in a phone interview after the meeting that there is full confidence in Malibu Lumber’s wastewater treatment system, whose mechanics were illustrated in a presentation at the meeting by John Yaroslaski, a former engineer for City of Los Angeles Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant, and current civil and design engineer of Malibu Lumber’s wastewater system.

“This isn’t a septic system, it’s a $3 million small-scale wastewater treatment plant,” Yaroslaski said. “It’s an environmentally superior treatment option.”

Yaroslaski explained the wastewater treatment plant uses conservation technology (low flow faucets, low flow toilets and waterless urinals), produces recycled water to be used for future irrigation of Legacy Park and is equipped with a real-time groundwater level monitoring device that sets off an alarm in the event of an emergency.

Malibu Lumber has also more than doubled the size of equalization tanks and doubled the leach field size and capacity for days that could possibly exceed effluent limits, he said. The plant is comprised of 10 “zones,” any one of which can be replaced or repaired without having to shut down the entire system.

The wastewater treatment plant, Yaroslaski said, will prevent the Civic Center groundwater basin from being impacted by Malibu Lumber mall discharges, and meets permit-allotting standards to enable project revenue for the City of Malibu to pursue and finance clean water objectives. It is also compatible with the proposed Civic Center centralized septic system, to which it will have to adopt within six months of implementation, he said.

“We are very pleased with the outcome and with the resolution,” Gene Lucero, a lawyer representing Malibu Lumber LLC, said in a phone interview. “We look forward to moving ahead.