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Lawrence Lab Infill Project Threatens Creek, Wildlife

Friday July 04, 2003

For more than 10 years, I have been proud to be employed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Although I know that some in the community object to some of the lab’s actions, I have generally been pleased with the lab’s activities over the past decade, have enjoyed my time there, and I know that our research has been top-notch.  

Unfortunately, the lab, in conjunction with UC Berkeley, has just begun the environmental impact report (EIR) process for a project that—if built as planned—will completely bury a small creek and fill most of its valley, in order to build a parking lot. In fact, although LBNL wants the parking lot, that’s not the main motivation: really, they just need a place to dump more than 2,000 truckloads of dirt that will be generated by excavating for a new building, and disposing of it on-site will save them a lot of money and a lot of hassle. Where can you dump 2,000 truckloads of dirt? In a valley. It doesn’t seem to bother them that the valley is a thriving creek corridor that includes several coast live oaks, supports lots of bird life and is threaded with paths made by the lab’s black-tailed deer. In short, the project will: 

• Completely bury about 300 linear feet of open creek (a tributary of Strawberry Creek); 

• Result in the removal of coast live oaks and other important riparian vegetation; 

• Actually fill in (i.e. bury) a riparian corridor with 2,000 truckloads’ worth of of dirt; 

• Cut away an extremely steep slope for building construction—an inappropriate building site—thus generating the dirt fill in the first place, and 

• Construct a new parking lot, thereby actively promoting more vehicle use, traffic and air pollution. 

I’m very familiar with this particular creek, having noticed it many times on my daily bike ride home from the lab. When the weather conditions are right, a steady flow of cool air pours down the valley, creating a noticeable local cool zone. Because the valley opens onto the road at a hairpin curve that holds drivers’ attention, most employees have probably never noticed this steep-sided valley and its seasonal creek ... but I have, and I don’t want to see it destroyed. In fact, I’ll quit rather than be a part of an organization that will fill in a creek. I love my job and colleagues, but LBNL cannot be allowed to act so irresponsibly. 

More information on the project is available at the lab’s Web site,, where you want the June 16 “notice of preparation.” Most of the other documents there are for another project. (Note: This project is not the nano-technology foundry building, but rather a different building proposal.) 

To add to the problems, the building site itself is a poor choice: it contains a grove of coast live oaks, and is very steep—that’s why so many truckloads of dirt need to be excavated.  

If LBNL committed to cleaning up and re-using sites currently available for building (i.e. not new open space), this project would be unnecessary. 

At this point, the lab is “scoping” the EIR. That is, they’re figuring out what should be included. It’s vital that they consider reasonable alternative sites. It’s also important to immediately show the lab that they are going to face substantial opposition to this ridiculously anti-environmental proposal, so that they consider alternatives before becoming totally committed to it. Filling in a creek to build a parking lot should not be allowed. Please, take a stand. 

Dr. Phillip N. Price, a Berkeley resident, works as a scientist in the environmental energy technologies division of LBNL.