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Hancock Calls For Hearing On Campus Bay Dredging: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday October 05, 2004

As crews prepare to dredge a shoreline marsh in Richmond on the edge of one of the region’s most polluted sites, Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) is pushing for a legislative hearing. 

“This is extremely important and the public is clamoring for a complete hearing that will get their questions answered,” Hancock said. 

Hancock, who serves on the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, hopes to hold a formal hearing within the next two weeks, although the office of state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has requested that no hearings be slated until after the election. 

“We’ll do an informal hearing if we can’t do it formally,” Hancock said. “This site is a poster child for environmental cleanup and environmental justice. It needs to be done right.”  

Excavators will begin construction today (Tuesday) of a waterproof berm to contain the 25,000 cubic yards of muck they will excavate from the start beginning Friday. The polluted soil will be replaced by clean dirt already stored on the site. 

The muck will remain on site through the winter, worrying neighbors who fear dust from the drying surface could blow onto their properties. San Francisco Bay Regional Quality Control Board (RQWB) staffers, development company officials and the firm handling the cleanup all insist that adequate safeguards have been installed. 

Beyond the immediate issue of the marsh cleanup, Hancock is challenging the plans of developers to build a 1330-unit housing unit over a buried toxic waste dump adjacent to the marsh. 

“This would be the first time housing would be allowed in California on capped toxic soil,” Hancock said. “I don’t want the experiment to be done on my constituents.” 

For the 100 years ending in 1997, chemical plants on the waterfront site produced a wide range of compounds, many of them toxic in and of themselves and together generating a noxious brew that were either buried or penetrated the soil beneath the plants. 

Toxins range from burned iron pyrites to heavy metals and highly dangerous volatile organic compounds. 

The latest phase of the project calls for excavation of saltwater-saturated muck of Stege Marsh between the housing site and the shoreline. The muck contains metals and other toxins hazardous to wildlife, and the cleanup was mandated as part of the work on the site of the larger site. 

The RWQB, as lead agency in the cleanup, gave the go-ahead for the dredging last week despite opposition from neighbors and environmental activists. 

In the second phase of the project, Cherokee Simeon Ventures, a joint venture partnership formed by a Marin County developer and a Colorado venture capital firm, plans an adjacent 1330-unit residential complex on the site of the chemical plants, which contains a concentrated brew of hazardous substances buried under a clay soil cap. 

Site cleanup has been conducted by LFR Levine-Fricke, a firm once headed by James D. Levine, now a Berkeley developer who is pushing plans for a major tribal casino resort, shopping and entertainment complex at Point Molate in Richmond. 

Project critics, including the owners of buildings and businesses adjacent to the site, have said they aren’t satisfied with the level of information they’re been receiving about plans for the site from the developer and the state. 

During a recent meeting at the site, Brunner told RWQB officials that while the level of information had improved, he still wanted a complete breakdown on toxins present on the site. 

Hancock and Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendel Brunner have both urged state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Terry Tamminen to take control of the project from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and transfer it to the Department of Toxic Substances Control. 

Brunner made a plea for the transfer in a July 16 letter to Tamminen, noting that while the toxic agency had taken the lead on all previous toxic sites in the county, the water board has retained control of this one. 

Tamminen refused the request. After a meeting at the site two weeks ago, Barbara J. Cook of the DTSC declined to comment on the matter. 

Brunner wrote that the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Boards “have neither the expertise nor experience to properly oversee characterization of a site this complex, appropriately evaluate comprehensive remediation plans, assess health hazards and risks from the site and the clean-up process.” 

“A major problem is that this site has been cleaned up only to light industrial standards, and not for residential use,” Hancock said. 

The assemblymember said one problem with current environmental law is that it allows developers to go agency shopping, to find the state entity that will offer the least possible resistance to a project. 

“Since the developer proposes housing, it should be cleaned up to residential standards,” Hancock said. 

“DTSC usually fills the lead role on toxic cleanup. They have the expertise, and they have the authority to set standards, and their process is very open to the public. That’s not the case with the water board, which can only enforce standards and is not nearly as open to public participation,” she said.?