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Dredging Toxics Report Still Not In

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday December 04, 2007

The City Council continued the discussion on the Aquatic Park dredging to Dec. 18 because of time constraints at last week’s council meeting. 

Councilmember Darryl Moore told the Planet that he had asked the Public Works Department to provide a more comprehensive report about the toxicology tests.  

The city’s Public Works Department dredged the lagoon at the north end of the Aquatic Park and unloaded the spoils along the shoreline almost a month ago without requesting a permit from the California State Water Resources Control Board. 

The incident drew criticism from city officials and local environmentalists—including the Sierra Club—because the spoils were discarded on a popular bird-watching site and adjacent to one of the main wading-bird foraging spots. 

City officials provided the state water board with a full report of the dredging on Nov. 8 and stopped the project after inquiries from the community and 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. At the time the city last conducted the dredging in 1992, the spoils were barged out and deposited near Alcatraz Island. This is no longer permitted. 

The city report states that if the “Strawberry storm drain overflow is not cleaned and maintained, there is added chance of flooding occurring in West Berkeley during heavy rains.” 

According to the report prepared by public works for the City Council, the project had originally been scheduled for summer, but fell behind schedule. 

The report blamed the department’s engineering division’s failure to inform the regulatory agencies, the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department officials and the Public Works director on its “quest to expedite the work before the rainy season.” 

Preliminary results for toxins on spoil samples indicated a high but not hazardous lead level. 

W.R. Forde, the contractor hired by the city to dredge the lagoon, was responsible for taking samples of the sediment from the tidal tubes and the spoils to determine whether any contaminants were present in order to identify where the spoils could be disposed. 

According to the report, the samples were sent to Analytical Sciences testing laboratory in Petaluma.  

“Since the soil is contaminated with lead and hydrocarbons, we have to take it to a Class 2 waste disposal site in Altamont in watertight trucks,” said Jeff Egeberg, manager of engineering at public works. “But first we have to let the spoils dry. That could take up to two months. We will present the council with a full report of the approved work plan, the final test results and the ultimate disposal plan for the spoils at the December meeting.” 

The report states that the city would have to build a completely water-tight containment on-site to allow the soil to dry by evaporation.  

Forde has also indicated that it could take charge of the material and haul it off to its own facility. 

The city has requested Laurel Marcus, the environmental consultant working on the Aquatic Park Improvement Program, to review and identify any additional measures required for mitigating the environmental impacts to the dredging location and the spoils dumpsite. 

Councilmember Moore told the Planet that he expected the city to conduct its own tests. 

“The very contractor doing the dredging is doing the toxic tests,” he said. “It doesn’t really help.” 

The Planet has submitted a public records act request to the city for the test results. 

The state water board has asked the city to include in its work plan whether the cleaning operation caused any water issues or if any of the decant water made its way back to the lagoon. 

According to Brian Wines, who oversees permits for Alameda County at the state water board, signs of turbidity or dissolved oxygen demand in the water are detrimental for fish and water birds. The report states that no issues were observed. 

Egeberg told the Planet that it was unlikely that the project would resume before Christmas. 

“We are considering delaying the remainder of the dredging until after the wet weather season,” he said. 

Costs for consulting by Marcus and other expenses associated with environmental mitigations resulting from stockpiling the spoils are estimated not to exceed $20,000. 

The report states that these costs would have been the same regardless of errors in permit approvals.