Berkeley officials said they plan to submit a work plan for dredging Aquatic Park lagoon to the State Water Resources Control Board for approval, according to city and state officials.
The city’s Public Works Department dredged the lagoon at the north end of the park and dumped sludge along the shoreline last week without requesting a permit from the state water board. Local environmentalists and city officials complained that the sludge—likely toxic, they said—was dumped on a popular bird watching site and adjacent to one of the main wading-bird foraging spots.
The approximately 30 truckloads of spoils dumped near the west end of the park near the Berkeley Rowing and Paddling Club have been covered by black plastic sheets and burlap bags to prepare for rain.
Loren Jensen, supervising engineer at Public Works, said that W.R. Forde, the contractor hired by the city for the dredging, was responsible for testing the spoils.
“We are waiting for the test results to come back to figure out where we are going to dispose [ of the sludge],” he said Wednesday.
The lagoon is dredged every 15 years to clear out debris around the tidal tubes and to clean out the Strawberry Creek storm drain in order to improve circulation. The procedure costs the city about $80,000, which is taken from the General Fund.
Jensen acknowledged that the contractors hired by the city had not used proper methods for disposing of the sludge.
City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that the city was testing the sludge independently and coordinating with Lauren Marcus Associates, the consultants hired by the city to advise the Aquatics Park subcommittee on future projects, to determine the sludge’s impact on the park’s natural habitat and its proper disposal.
Brian Wines, who oversees permits for Alameda County at the state water board, told the Planet that a permit for dredging was required for the project, but none had been obtained.
“When you disturb the sediments, it increases the turbidity of the water,” he said. “Particles tend to get into the gills of some fish. Sometimes the water gets cloudy and it affects the sight of the fish and prevents them from finding their prey. In some cases when you dredge buried sediments which have very low levels of oxygen, it can reduce the level further.”
Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore—whose district includes the park—told the Planet this week that he was disappointed that the city had refrained from adding a time-critical item concerning the Aquatics Park dredging to the Nov. 27 City Council agenda.
“It’s very disturbing that the city did not get a right permit for the dredging and dumped the sludge in an inappropriate area,” he said. “The city manager has told me that he will address my concerns through a report at the City Council meeting. But I am not sure if that report will be able to address all my concerns. If that’s the case then I will move it to an action item. I want to know who’s to blame.”
Jensen said that the State Water Resources Control Board and the Army Corps of Engineers—the two regulatory bodies responsible for issuing dredging permits—had told project manager Hamid Kondazi that a permit wasn’t required, but he couldn’t provide any documentation to support that claim.
“It’s important we find out how to prevent this from happening in the future,” Moore said. “The city must act quickly to ensure that potential hazardous waste is stored properly and that any environmental impacts due to improper handling of this waste is minimized before there is any further damage to the delicate ecosystem in the Aquatic Park.”
He added that he wanted to see the specific guidelines given to the contractor on how to conduct the dredging. The Planet has requested a copy of the contract but has yet to receive a reply.
Although the city’s website reveals that W.R. Forde was paid $83,450 for dredging a storm drain at Aquatic Park, Jensen said the work was not to clean a drain but rather to improve the water quality of the lagoon.
Claudette Ford, director of public works, said at the City Council Agenda Committee meeting Monday that she disagreed with the use of the term dredging for the park lagoon project.
She said that her department was working with the regional water board to find out what happened and resolve the issue. Ford did not return calls from the Planet for comment.