Casmalia looks, at first glance,
to be a scenic and undiscovered gem in which we ask ourselves, "Why isn't
this place booming?" It has rolling hills, plenty of land for growth
and it's just a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean along the California
Central Coast. In reality, the little town of under 200 occupants
is known throughout the State of California. It is known by dozens
of cities, public schools, 10,000 businesses and even airlines that have
in one way, made this a final destination.
Just over a mile from the location of these
photos above, lies one of Californiaa's worst toxic sites ever. It is undergoing
clean up and when completed, possibly a decade or two from now, has
the potential of being a thriving place it once was.
Located 10 miles southwest of Santa Maria
and 1.5 miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Casmalia Resources
Hazardous Waste Facility accepted commercial and industrial wastes from
1973 to 1989.
During its years of operation, millions
of gallons of liquid hazardous waste and millions of cubic yards of solid hazardous waste were placed in 43 storage/
evaporation ponds, 7 burial trenches, 6 landfills and 3 treatment
units at the facility. Since 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
has worked to stabilize the site to control actual or potential releases
of hazardous substances from the facility.
While there is some dispute as to the chain
of events which brought this unfortunate chapter in the life Casmalia
into focus, Greenpeace claimed they received leaked internal documents
from the EPA discussing knowledge that the site was a potential hazard.
From inadequate holding tanks to improper mixing of chemicals, the facility
offered competitive prices to school districts and other entities that
sought disposal of everything from oils, plating byproducts and freon
to medical wastes.
Newspaper articles reported townspeople
getting sick and moving away and in this one school town, a principal and
his teacher became too ill to teach one day and had to send their pupils
home. Several years in the works now, a clean up process is labor
intensive and requires many strategies to meet unexpected challenges.
Take, for instance, the endangered
red-legged frogs that have made a home at the closed Casmalia Resources
toxic waste dump, causing headaches for those trying to clean up nearly
500 million gallons of waste. A recent survey estimated as many as
300 frogs may be living in ponds at the site. If accurate, it would make
the dump home to one of the biggest populations of red-legged frogs in
California, experts said. Attracted to one of the few water sources
in the region, deer, coyote, feral pigs, ground squirrels and waterfowl
have all been spotted on the property.
As you drive into the town of Casmalia
along Casmalia Road, there's a vantage point from which you can see the
tops of houses peaking through the trees. The sign announcing
your arrival includes mention of the Hitching Post Restaurant. It
is known throughout the region for its outstanding meats and fish cooked
over special fires using woods for flavor. The restaurant is responsible
for attracting visitors to the town which features a main street
(Point Sal Road) where a dog can usually be seen, relaxing in the street.
At the turn of the 20th Century, over 1,500
people lived in Casmalia. Farmers, farm laborers, oil men and railroad
workers found the town's location well suited for their occupations.
Point Sal Wharf had been built close by and Casmalia was one of the last
stops before crops and refined products such as sugar were shipped by boats
to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Pacific Coast Railway arrived in
Santa Maria and eliminated Casmalia and the Point Sal Wharf from their
route which favored Port Harford (Port San Luis).
From relics of the Chumash Indians traced
to 9,000 years past at Casmalia Creek or Shuman Canyon, to grazing land
for La Purisima Mission, to a thoroughfare for stage coach travel, Casmalia
has seen it all. Residents today are frequently treated to close
up views of missile launches from nearby Vandenberg military base. And
when space travel becomes affordable, perhaps Casmalia will again become
the bustling community it once was since its next door neighbor, Vandenberg,
is already involved in commercial ventures to launch satellites and payloads
for private companies. But for now, you'll see houses, a post office/grocery
store, restaurant and lots of cows dining on grass in the fields adjacent
to Point Sal Road.