The Berkeley City Council asked the Public Works department last week to retest the piles of sludge that have been lying next to the Aquatic Park lagoon for the last eight months and explore options for its reuse, citing expenses for its removal as prohibitive.
Public Works dredged the lagoon at the north end of the park in November and unloaded the spoils along the shoreline without requesting a permit from the water board.
Claudette Ford, director of public works, submitted a 200-page report to the council last week and asked it to approve the disposal of the spoils at a landfill.
Ford said the original Aquatic Park dredging project, which encompassed dredging the lagoon to clear out debris around the tidal tubes and clean out the Strawberry Creek storm drain to improve circulation, originally estimated at $83,450, had been divided into two phases and would now cost $242,800.
Disposal of the spoils alone came with a $210,000 price tag, according to the updated proposal.
Lisa Stephens, a member of the Aquatic Park Subcommittee, along with a couple of other environmental activists, urged the city to look at reusing the spoils in the park.
“With the amount of money you are spending to dispose of the material, we could re-vegetate the whole park,” she said. “In terms of the toxicity of the spoils, if there is a way to reuse it, that would be great.”
Mark Lilios, who heads the Environmental Greening, Restoration, and Education Team (EGRET), the habitat stewardship group for Aquatic Park, asked the city to turn the six-foot-high mounds into a sound berm.
“If you haven’t had a chance to visit the dredging spoils, I would encourage you to go down there and see it before it gets buried inside landfill,” he said. “It creates a lovely sand berm for the bird watchers or anybody relaxing in the park. If you go on the lagoon side of the spoils, it completely blocks noise from the freeway.”
Ford said Public Works had explored options to reuse the sludge but was advised by its consultants Laural Marcus Associates to “encapsulate and put it away.”
“The lead is not at the highest level, but our consultants recommended that it not be used for any other cover but be taken away,” she said.
Mayor Tom Bates asked Public Works officials if creating berms from the spoils could be explored.
“There is already excess soil there, we don’t need this for the park,” Loren Jensen, supervising engineer for Public Works, told the mayor.
Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district includes Aquatic Park, questioned the toxicity level of the spoils.
“Is the toxicity that high?” he asked. “I would imagine it was less toxic after drying for six months.”
Jensen replied that the spoils could be used in the park, but that the master plan of the Aquatic Park Improvement Program called for excavating soil from the same area, which would have lesser lead levels than the current spoils.
“There are plans to turn that area into a fresh water marsh,” he said.
Citing the prohibitive disposal costs, Moore pressed for reuse of the spoils to save the city the $210,000 it would cost to bury the soil.
Ford said Public Works would re-test the soil, and if the toxicity levels turned out to be even more than the current level, it would consider other options.
Councilmember Betty Olds complained that the piles of sludge, covered in plastic, were an eyesore for the city.
“I am all for getting rid of the dirt piles,” she said “It’s not native to the area and it should be removed.”