Septic transfers causing a stink

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It is a horribly foul odor, and according to Malibu resident Patty Chursky, “there is nothing you can do sometimes. I just have to leave my house.” Chursky, who lives near the Malibu sign off Pacific Coast Highway, said the smell from septic tankers, working across the highway, operating a job they call a “transfer,” is so unbearable she is forced to leave her home office during some days.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “And I have a friend up the street selling her house. She had some people in there the other day and the truck came by. That smell hit the house and they were gone.”

And that’s not the worst problem as far as Malibuites are concerned.

What if the tanks spill the sewage?

For many Malibu residents, a transfer has disaster written all over it. Little septic tanks, which can hold only 2,000 gallons of waste, are smaller and more maneuverable than the massive 5,000 gallon tankers. So they are driven up small residential (or even business) roads in Malibu, vacuum in the sewage, then bring it back to a tanker, waiting like a mother ship alongside the road. With a vacuum-charged pump, the small tanker pumps its entire cargo into the large tanker in less than four minutes.

Tom Lubisich, president of Wastec septic company in Malibu, says it “is absolutely a minimum risk.” He couldn’t even remember the last time they had a spill. However, “every now and then you get a leaky valve, lose a quart, a gallon. But all the trucks carry bleach to neutralize the wet spots. And you know, [the city and citizens like Chursky] are really making a mountain out of a mole hill. There is so little risk involved, we might as well just say that everyday living is dangerous.”

Chursky is still concerned. She has taken her complaint to the Malibu City Council and Los Angeles County offices crying out against the lack of any health code or city ordinance dealing with street-side septic pumping.

And after banging on closed doors and talking to many a deaf ear, Chursky finally found Ken Kearsely, Malibu city councilmember. “He got right on it,” Chursky said. “There are the property issues and health issues, he understood that. And he knew [what the trucks are doing] is just not okay.”

Kearsely is now working to create a city ordinance with Waste and Water Management that would restrict transfers.

Chursky first placed her complaint in May, when she was nearly knocked over by the infamous smell, and noticed there were tankers parked across from her house overnight. She soon discovered that there is no law against the tankers transferring or parking overnight.

Lubisich explained that there hadn’t been any problem before around May.

“We had a lease at the Adamson House,” he said. “We paid rent there to make our transfers there. There never was a complaint of smell. We had enough space and we weren’t in anybody’s way.” The Adamson House was unavailable for comment as to why they terminated the lease.

But like many issues, it comes down to money and big (little city) politics, according to Chursky. The problem that she is now acknowledging and facing with Kearsely, is even if everyone agrees that the hit-and-run transfers should be eliminated, who “in a city that would scrap over every acre” is going to give the septic companies another safe zone? The job, pumping–nearly a dozen trucks working eight-hour days, every day, according to Lubisich–has to be done. The issue, as Chursky understands it, is a pragmatic one. She is learning to understand the pumping company’s plight so that she can better understand what sort of proposal will work.

“Wastec, Eli Jr. and all other pumping companies need to decide where they dump their sewage,” she explained. At Sepulveda Basin they can dump for 5 cents per gallon, but at Ventura they can dump for 2 cents a gallon. Then the issue becomes gas money, time spent sitting (polluting) on the freeway, etc.

Chursky realizes that the problem is much too big to shrug aside with a simple ordinance. Dump sites are miles away, and everything is expensive. She knows that there needs to be some place for Wastec and others to do their transfer. She even calls for Malibu to open some industrial space for such things.

Lubisich couldn’t agree more. “If we had a site, there would be no problem,” he commented.

Currently, the tankers can park overnight in residential areas. And they are still performing transfers across the highway from Patty Chursky’s house.