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Worker claims new hazard found at skate park project

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday June 27, 2001

Just when the Harrison Street Skate Park was back on track – the discovery of chromium 6 in ground water beneath the project had halted construction – a new violation of environmental standards is being charged. 

Stephen Thomas, a laborer who worked on the site during the excavation told the city’s Toxic Management Division that, a large container filled with “some kind of oil or something” was unearthed and accidentally ruptured, covering him with the substance.  

“It was some kind of tank that had pipes coming out of it,” Thomas said. “Then we were told to just cover it back up.” 

Gerald Morris, owner of G. Morris Construction, who performed the site excavation said there is no truth to the charges. “This allegation is fallacious, I personally conducted the excavation and there was no tank of any kind,” he said. “I’d be more than happy to cooperate with anyone from the DA’s office who might have questions as would any of the supervisors who worked on the site.” 

Thomas made a report to Hazardous Materials Supervisor Nabil Al-Hadithy who said the report was immediately turned over to the county district attorney who is investigating the charges.  

Deputy District Attorney Mike O’Connor, who is handling the case, was not available to comment on the status of the investigation. 

However staff counsel David Boyer of the State Water Quality Control Board, said that if Thomas’ allegations are true, the contractor could possibly face civil and criminal prosecution by the district attorney. 

A Stop Work Order was issued for the 18,000-square-foot skate park project in November when the carcinogen chromium 6 was discovered in groundwater that was exposed during excavation. The city has so far spent about $295,000 in cleanup and re-design fees, not including staff time, according to Parks and Waterfront Department staff. 

Formal documentation was completed in early June that outlined the city’s efforts to remove all environmental hazards from the site. The report said the site had been sufficiently cleaned up. 

According to Parks and Waterfront Director Lisa Caronna, the city is accepting bids from architects for a re-design of the skate park and the tentative plan is to begin construction anew this fall. 

Thomas, who currently resides at homeless shelter near the skate park site, said he was concerned the underground tank may have contained a substance that will have a harmful effect on his health. 

“I’m a little worried that when I get older I might have some ill effects from whatever that stuff was,” he said. “But I’m not so worried about me, I’ve already lived half my life, I’m more worried about the kids who will be playing there.” 

Morris said his crew found a lot of things below the surface of the skate park such as six concrete piers that once supported railroad tracks, as well as a large number of metal items, which were hauled away by a salvage company. “We had at least four 40-foot flatbed trucks loaded with salvaged metal hauled away,” he said. “But we didn’t find any tanks.”  

Morris said they did come across a two-inch pipe that contained a dried material that he said posed no environmental hazard. The pipe was also removed from the site, he said. 

“I never worked on a site that was more closely monitored that that one,” Morris said. “There were people from the city there on more than a daily basis.”