Public Comment

New: Alarming News! Trees in Strawberry Canyon to be Clearcut for UC Berkeley, Lawrence Lab

By Lesley Emmington, for Save Strawberry Canyon
Thursday November 24, 2011 - 08:13:00 AM

Up in the Berkeley Hills, the cutting of some 50 trees will begin tomorrow morning, the day after Thanksgiving. The tree cutting is the initial step to clear the hillside landscape for the construction of a massive "supercomputer" structure. It is the University of California's (UC) Computational Research and Theory Facility (CRT), a 130,000 GSF facility built for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in contract with the Department of Energy (DOE). The site is located above Hearst Avenue and, then, above the steep curve of Cyclotron Road where it meets the LBNL security gates. CRT promises to become a dominant presence spanning across the Canyon ridge, in an unstable area that has suffered over 40 landslides, contaminating Strawberry Creek's watershed and further destabilizing the hills. 

CRT was originally announced in 2007. Since then Save Strawberry Canyon (SSC) has been challenging the project in federal court, maintaining that valuable canyon landscapes would be further diminished and that it is perilous to build such a structure at this location. Early last week the court denied the 4 year long suit effort, concluding that full federal environmental review was not necessary. Last Friday an internal LBNL memo announced the commencement of work to cut the 50 trees. 

At a time when state and national dollars are disappearing, it is worth asking: can UC and LBNL/DOE afford to build this project at this location? Furthermore, can they/we afford to gamble with the safety risks intrinsic to this site?  

To build CRT (cost est. in 2008 $112,000,000) on the steep hillside (2 ft horizontal for 1 ft drop) it is predictable to cost from 30 to 50 percent more than if built on flat, solid land. The soils under the CRT footprint are known to consist of culluvial materials — loose, fine grain soil deposits. Such soils mandate that 30,000 cubic yards be removed from the 45 degree slope! and then replaced with new soil!! It can be estimated that this calls for 3,000 truck round-trips, first carrying at most 10 cubic yards away (est. travel to site, last half mile being very steep), then, again, 3,000 round-trips to haul in replacement dirt. Building on this site, where Cyclotron Road is cut away below, will entail major excavation, compaction, stabilization of the hillsides with concrete webbing, and the drilling of piers deep enough to reach through the new compacted earth to a base of some stability. Still, it may not be certain that the consitions are stable. It is an incredible undertaking demanding major financial resources. 

Intertwined with the fact that it is an extravagant waste of dollars to build CRT on this unstable ridge, it is of further concern that the site is 400 feet from the Hayward Fault. To the east, the Wildcat Canyon Fault runs at a parallel to the Hayward Fault behind the UC Botanical Gardens. The canyons and hillsides are a geologic setting defined by fault fissures, volcanic rocks, unconsolidated soils, and deposits of deep water pools, and streams. The four shocks felt this last month occurred on an epicenter of the Hayward Fault less than a mile to the south of the site. It should bring UC to a construction stand-still, reminded that a major event of a magnitude 6.8 to 7.0, or more, is predicted to occur at any time. 

CRT will become another major construction project on the UC upland proprieties, including the Stadium, the Stadium Sport Fields in Strawberry Canyon, Switching Station #6, Hazard Waste Facility, General Purpose Lab, BELLA, etc. It can be said that an industrial complex is being further compounded (with many of the streams and Strawberry Creek now in pipes). But, just thinking of the next couple of months: doesn't it defy all construction rules to begin removing the 50 trees from such a vulnerable site as the heavy rains begin? And, doesn't it defy logic to begin construction of this "anchor" project when LBNL is about to announce a Second Campus site?