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UC Halts Field Station Talks; Radioactivity Fears Raised By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday September 06, 2005

UC Berkeley has called a halt to talks with a Marin County developer whom they had selected as a potential developer of a corporate/industrial research park at their Richmond Field Station. 

A state official also said Thursday that her agency is looking into claims that radioactive waste may have been dumped offshore from the station. 

Meanwhile, two field station workers—one of them retired—were elected Thursday night to the community advisory panel monitoring the state’s oversight of cleanups at the RFS and the adjoining Campus Bay site. 

Rick Alcaraz, the retiree, who is also a former union official, has told the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) that he and other workers collected drums from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and dumped them offshore from the field station three decades ago. Alcaraz said he believes the drums contained radioactive waste material. 

Barbara Cook, who is supervising the cleanups of field station and Campus Bay for the DTSC, said that the property where the drums were dropped is not owned by RFS and that the state does not know who owns the marshland between the station and the Marina Bay subdivision. 

She said that her agency will be using magnetometers in an attempt to pinpoint the barrels so her agency can determine what they contained. 


Victory and stalled talks 

The appointment of the RFS representatives with only one dissenting vote represents a major victory for the UC employees, many of whom were worried about potential exposures to hazardous chemicals which are present in the soil. 

Initially, employees were told they were banned from serving on the panel because they worked for one of the parties involved in the cleanup, but the workers pressed their request to serve on CAG, ending in Thursday night’s vote and the seating of David Kim, a current RFS employee, and Alcaraz, who former colleagues say is well-versed on events at the site. 

Both the field station and the adjoining Campus Bay property are contaminated by toxic chemicals left over from the chemical factory and blasting cap plant that were once on the land. 

Cleanups at both sites are now under the control of the state DTSC, which took over jurisdiction from the Regional Water Quality Control Board early this year following protests by local activists and resolutions by the Richmond City Council and Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. UC Berkeley resisted the change in oversight to the DTSC. 

Because of the change in supervision, UC Berkeley Senior Public Information Representative Sarah Yang said Friday that plans to build a 2.2-million-square-foot corporate/academic research complex on the site have been placed on hold. 

“The talks were discontinued because of all the unresolved issues about the future and the lack of a clear time frame for remediation. We decided that until those issues are resolved, let’s hold off,” said Yang. 

While the university had been in initial talks with Cherokee-Simeon Ventures (CSV) as their choice of applicants from a Request for Qualifications, the talks were eventually narrowed down to Simeon Properties, a Marin County and San Francisco development firm. 

Cherokee Investment Partners, an international firm specializing in investing in developments on cleaned-up toxic sites, is still teamed with Simeon to develop the Campus Bay site—those those plans too are being held in abeyance until cleanup issues are resolved. 

Members of the South Richmond Community Advisory Group, which is charged with observing the cleanup process, moved forward last week, learning that Cook has reopened the investigation into why trees have been dying on both sites. 

While a botanist on Cook’s staff originally blamed the deaths on excess water, field station workers and neighbors feared toxins. Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BARRD) activists Claudia Carr and Sherry Padgett—the latter a CAG member—recruited UC Berkeley plant pathologist Dr. Robert Raabe to look at the plants, and he too suspected toxins. 

Raabe, Cook, a toxicologist and a botanist from her staff and developers will tour Campus Bay on Wednesday to examine the trees.