Berkeley is considering suing the company responsible for the groundwater contamination that has delayed the opening of the Harrison Skateboard Park and has cost the city more than $250,000 to clean up.
“We are seriously looking into the matter, but have not decided what action to take,” said City Attorney Michael Woo.
Construction was halted in November 2000, when groundwater tested at the site was found to contain the carcinogen chromium 6, an odorless chemical used to make paint pigments.
Western Roto Engravers Color Tech, two blocks from the park on Sixth Street, admits that created the contamination. But the company says that better communication between city officials and the original contractor, Morris Construction, could have prevented the contamination from affecting the skateboard park.
Bill Mackay, general manager of Western Roto, said the city knew chromium 6 was in the groundwater. The city should have told Morris Construction so that during construction the company could have kept chromium 6 from spreading to the park, he said.
“It was pretty dumb to be digging there,” Mackay said.
City officials disagreed.
An earlier environmental study of the neighborhood around Fifth and Harrison streets showed chromium 6 in groundwater near the park but not under it, said Hazardous Materials Supervisor Nabil Al-Hadithy. So, they went ahead with construction of the park, Al-Hadithy said.
When contractors hit groundwater, they had to pump the water to continue digging. The pumping acted as a suction, and pulled nearby contaminated water toward the skateboard park.
Local water officials, too, blamed the city for the skate park contamination.
Will Bruhns, senior engineer at the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the city failed to petition the water board for the permit that is required to pump groundwater, and it did not seek the board’s advice before pumping.
“It seems there was miscommunication within the city in which city officials overseeing the chromium 6 cleanup didn’t tell park officials about the contamination,” he said.
Had the water board been notified of the pumping, Bruhns said, they could have suggested ways to prevent contamination.
Because skate parks are built like deep bowls, city officials originally wanted the park built below groundwater level so that police passing by could see what was happening at the park. However, after the contamination was found, the city redesigned the park to stand higher, above the groundwater.
According to a city parks department report, the city spent about $265,000 to clean up the chromium 6. The city first used tanks to haul away the contaminated water. Then it used filters.
Because of the contamination, the skate park’s cost went up about $280,000. It was first budgeted at $380,000 but will cost $660,000 upon completion. The park is slated to open next month.
City attorneys would not comment further about the potential suit.
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