Mysterious piles of steaming organic material on a lot just west of Interstate 5 near Lebec, and city of Los Angeles trucks dumping them there, have triggered an investigation by the county of Kern.
A man involved with transporting the material says it is just mulch -- chopped up green waste.
But Kern County officials had no idea the practice -- which depending on the details of it could require permits -- was occurring.
Supervisor David Couch, who has been sleuthing out the situation on his own, is suspicious because of Kern's long battle with the city of Los Angeles to stop it from spreading sewage sludge here.
"We don't know what it is. We don't know where it is coming from," Couch said. "Why are they being so secretive about it? Why on earth don't they have a little more respect for Kern County and its residents?"
A call to the city of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation seeking comment was not returned Wednesday.
Gabriel Mejia of Govia Transport and Logistics in Orange County arranges for private trucking firms to pick up the material left in Lebec by the city of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and take it to its final destination.
He wouldn't say where the material is going but said it is safe and not violating any rules.
"It's mulch," he said. "There's nothing out of whack. It's a way station between point A and point B."
Mejia said he is fully cooperating with the county on its investigation and looking forward to the situation being cleared up.
"They just want to satisfy the public's concern," he said.
In recent weeks, Supervisor Couch called for an investigation into the situation after he personally drove up to the site just west of Lebec twice.
He described the site as land just north of Frazier Mountain Park Road that is accessed by small dirt roads and surrounded by earth berms that conceal activity on it.
"I saw mounds of this stuff that was steaming and looked like compost," Couch said of his first visit there.
The second time he went there he saw a truck and a man scooping up some of the material to load onto a truck with the name of a Bakersfield trucking company on the side.
"He spent 40 to 45 minutes loading it" before leaving the site, locking the gate and driving off, Couch said.
Couch said he thinks there were four or five truckloads of material on the site.
The county of Kern has been in a court battle with the city of Los Angeles over Measure E -- a Kern County law approved by voters in 2006 that prohibits the land application of treated sewage sludge, also know as biosolids, in unincorporated areas.
Los Angeles currently spreads much of the treated solid waste from its sewer systems at Green Acres Farm -- a farm it owns in southwest Kern County.
Couch said the long conflict with Los Angeles is one reason he's concerned about the transfer site in Lebec. Kern County officials worry the land application of sewage sludge could harm the environment; Los Angeles officials argue the practice is perfectly safe.
Mejia said he is working with Kern County agencies to assure them that the material is safe and that leaving it on the site temporarily is not a land-use violation.
Kern County Engineering, Surveying and Permit Services Director Chuck Lackey said the county expects to confirm within the next day or two where the material is coming from and what is in it.
He said that if Los Angeles had provided Kern County "one little notice," it would have avoided all the confusion.
Lackey said that if the material is indeed non-hazardous, there may not be a violation.
"If the material is a waste product, then there is a problem that they didn't notify us," he said.
The other problem, he said, could be how long the material has been stored at the site.
Lackey said the situation allegedly has been going on for about six months and it isn't certain how long the material has remained on the site.
"You need a conditional use permit to stockpile compost or greenwaste -- or anything else for that matter," said Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt. "At this point there are no such land-use approvals in the Frazier Park area."
Mejia said the material is not being held at the property for long periods of time.
"We're not storing it," he said.