The City of Berkeley dredged the lagoon at the north end of Aquatic Park and dumped the sludge along the shoreline this week. State Water Resources Control Board officials said the city’s Public Works Department never requested a permit for the project.
Local environmentalists and city officials were furious that Public Works started the project during migratory season and dumped the sludge—likely toxic, they said—on the west side of the park, on top of a popular bird watching outlook and adjacent to one of the main wading bird foraging spots.
Loren Jensen, supervising engineer at Public Works, told the Planet that the project was stopped Wednesday after public complaints and inquiries from the Planet.
The lagoon is dredged every 15 years to clear out the debris around the tidal tubes and clean out the Strawberry Creek storm drain to improve circulation. The procedure costs the city about $80,000 from the General Fund.
Jensen said that the State Water Resources Control Board and the Army Corps of Engineers —the two regulatory bodies responsible for issuing permits for dredging—had told project manager Hamid Kondazi that a permit wasn’t required but he couldn’t provide any documentation to support that claim.
“He [Kondazi] can’t remember the name of the person he spoke to at the State Water Resources Control Board,” Jensen said.
“A permit is required any time they are performing work in waters of the state under the California Porter-Cologne Act,” said Brian Wines, who oversees permits for Alameda County at the state water board. “They definitely should have asked us first. I am very disappointed that they didn’t do this.”
By Wednesday, 30 truckloads of sludge formed four-foot piles along one of the best bird watching trails near the Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club. Spills could be seen trickling down to the waters of the lagoon which feeds into the bay.
Jensen acknowledged that the contractors hired by the city had not used the right method to dispose off the sludge. He did not name the firm the department had hired to dredge the lagoon.
“I would not have approved the way it was done if I was the project manager,” he said. “There are some spills close to the area and the water should not be allowed to go back into the lagoon. It’s not a good sight. I have stopped the work and asked the contractors to clean up the spoils.”
Wines told the Planet that the correct way to store the spoils was to pile it in a place and construct berms around it to prevent the water from running back into the waters of the bay.
“We’ve asked Public Works to prepare it,” he said.
Parks and recreation commissioner Lisa Stephens told the Planet that Laurel Marcus Associates—consultants hired by the city to provide advice on future park projects—had told the Aquatic Park Subcommittee that the sludge was probably highly contaminated since Strawberry Creek picked up all the urban waste on its way to the park.
“I am astounded at the way our city continues to treat the park as its dump,” she said.
An old car was sticking out from the spoils dumped at the site of excavation at the foot of Addison Street.
A great blue heron, a park fixture, was feeding near a pile of the sludge which contained, among other things, a car steering wheel. Ducks and white-crowned sparrows could also be seen feeding near the dumps.
“This is a place where the heron typically feeds,” said Mark Liolios of the Aquatic Park Environmental Greening, Education, and Restoration Team (EGRET). “I think as soon as the rains come the spoils will wash down and any toxic chemical in it will kill the fish and the birds that feed on it.”
Berkeley arborist (and Planet columnist) Ron Sullivan told the Planet that stirring up the lake could disturb the birds’ food supply.
“They really need to eat now, after the journey here, and all winter, to build up their reserves to return to their nesting grounds and breed,” she said.
William Rogers, acting director for the city’s Parks Recreation and Waterfront department, said Wednesday he was not aware of the dredging.
“Public Works told me today that the tubes are not working very efficiently,” he said. “In the event we have a lot of rain they want to improve the flow. There’s silt in front of the overflow that has caused floods in the past.”
Stephens told the Planet that the city shouldn’t put storm water in the Aquatic Park to solve West Berkeley’s flooding problems.
“It’s misguided public policy,” she said. “By deepening that area they are destroying a food habitat. There aren’t a lot of places at the Aquatic Park where birds can feed at the moment. Storm water is toxic. When the freshwater mixes with the salt water it kills the fish in the lagoon ... In order to keep West Berkeley from flooding, the city needs to have a very good storm-water plan.”