Protesters decry toxic cleanup efforts
By Rebecca Rosen Lum
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Posted on Thursday, December 02, 2004
Undaunted by frigid temperatures and a 6:30 a.m. start time, about 50 demonstrators opposed to a cleanup operation at the polluted Campus Bay site picketed the South 46th Street gates used by caterpillars and earth movers arriving to start their day's work.
Bundled in mufflers, gloves, woolen coats and gas masks -- and a skeleton model, in one case -- the demonstrators chanted "EPA, earn your pay," and "Hey, hey, Russell P., how do you spell toxicity?" a reference to Russell Pitto, CEO of Simeon Properties, which has joined with Cherokee Investments to propose a 1,300-unit housing development on the 85-acre site.
The crowd, which included professionals, business owners and physicians, courteously stepped aside to allow employees to drive into the field station property, sometimes adding an earnest, "have a nice day."
As part of the cleanup, workers are piling 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated mud into a vast hole and capping it with cement.
"The pile is growing and it smells worse all the time," said environmental lawyer Peter Weiner. "Those are volatile organics. There is dust coming off the site."
The grounds have been ravaged by more than 100 years of chemical production.
Blasting caps, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides were manufactured here long before any environmental protections were mandated by law. Testing has revealed heavy concentrations of DDT, PCBs and other caustics and carcinogens in the soil and marshes.
The protesters are angry that oversight of the project has been divided between the state Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Department of Toxic Substances Control. They want the state Environmental Protection Agency to give authority of the entire project to the toxics department.
"We don't know on a given day who to call," said Sherry Padgett, who works across the street from the site. "Will the trucks and equipment have signs that flip with phone numbers to call as they move from the Regional Water Quality Control Board marsh to the Department of Toxic Substances Control's 8-foot-high, 30-acre toxic cap?"
Bowing to public safety concerns, Simeon has scratched plans to add another 25,000 cubic yards of mud to the mound, opting to cart it away at a cost of more than $1.6 million. But that will not happen until the spring, so the drippy mud has time to drain, said Karen Stern of Singer Associates, the public relations firm representing Simeon.
"Today's protest is a disservice to the regulatory process and the project's commitment to a working relationship with state regulatory agencies, the community and the city of Richmond," said a Cherokee Simeon statement released Wednesday. "It also threatens the time-sensitive cleanup of Stege Marsh that is mandated to protect the endangered clapper rail."
The company has already invested $5 million in the marsh cleanup, the statement says.
The venture would bring millions of dollars in redevelopment funds to the cash-poor city, according to Pitto.
"Richmond needs so much redevelopment, but this is not the area for it," said Richmond physician Jeffrey Ritterman. "The Iron Triangle, Nystrom -- that's where we need redevelopment. We have to bring the precautionary principle to Richmond, and also make sure the polluter pays."
While San Francisco's waterfront is peppered with cautionary signs, there are no notices posted at Campus Bay that allude to pollution, he said.