Pressure Mounts in Marinwood Plaza Toxic Waste Case As Water Board Looks For AnswersSUMMARY: In a Regional Water Board hearing last week, residents, their County Supervisor, and members of the Water Board took a property owner to task for missing deadlines, lack of a project manager, and failure to demolish the building as ordered by the state.
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - February 13, 2017 - Residents of Marinwood, an unincorporated neighborhood in Northern Marin County, along with their county supervisor, Damon Connolly, testified in front of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board last Wednesday during the Regional Water Board Meeting and redirected a usually low-key status update to focus on several concerns related to the Marinwood Plaza PCE cleanup project. Issues they addressed included a missed February 1st deadline for soil excavation at the source and a failure to follow state ordered building demolition. Following testimony by “interested parties,” Members of the Water Board then voiced their own concerns about the handling of the project and asked the property owner’s representatives for details about cleanup.
Following a status report presentation by the Water Board’s assigned staffer, a total of seven “interested parties” came forward to comment on the situation. Rene Silveira, representing her family’s farm, Silveira Ranch, was the first to come before the board, and in a quivering voice, delivered a heartfelt plea, saying, “As I stand here right now, PCE is continuing to migrate toward and onto our property...and that is a very troubling thought, especially since no remediation has yet been done on our property...It really does worry us to think that that we’re going to be waiting another year and a half, or more perhaps, before any actual remediation is conducted on our property.”
Marin County Supervisor, Damon Connolly, also addressed the board with a calm but forceful message highlighting that the February 1st deadline for the completion of source area soil excavation and cleanup had lapsed. Referring to it as a “blown deadline given the ample time line for clean up is very disappointing, and in fact, inexcusable,” Supervisor Connolly made it very clear that he and his constituents are looking for enforcement action from the Water Board. Public backlash directed at the property owners continued from there with almost all speakers repeating a common refrain, requesting a full and proper cleanup and many of them demanding penalties.
As soon as the comment section for the agenda item had wrapped up, Water Board members began questioning both the hydrogeology firm contracted by the property owner and Wells Fargo Real Estate Investment Manager, Tom Fitzsimons, about the matter. Board member Kissinger began by asking about the size of the excavation site and verification of the size and depth. Assigned Water Board staff member, Ralph Lambert, explained that his lack of “Level C” hazardous materials certification prevented him from fully inspecting the contamination site. From there, Mr Kissinger pressed on asking Mr Lambert for details about whether demolition of the building where the dry cleaner operated was required, to which Mr Lambert responded, “...it’s mentioned...but that was only a means to get to the soil, the important part is...the dirty soil.”
Board members also quizzed Wells Fargo’s Tom Fitzsimons about his role in the property and why he was there representing the owners. New to the Water Board, Jayne Battey, joined in lamenting, “I would really have liked to see the owners here today.” Toward the end of the question and answer portion, board member, Steve Lefkovits, pointedly asked, “Who’s the project manager ultimately responsible for the time line?” When Mr Fitzsimons explained that it’s really the owners, Marinwood Plaza LLC, and presumably its president, Lee Hoytt, Mr Lefkovits persisted, asking: “Is there a specific person who’s overseeing all the work?”
The presiding Vice-Chair, Jim McGrath, in an attempt to keep things on track interrupted and reminded everyone that the actual scope of the agenda item was to get a progress report on the remediation action plan addenda recently submitted by the property owner’s geology consultants
But the tough questions kept coming as board member, Dr Newsha Ajami, struggled to understand the delays, stating: “...it troubles me me to see that you guys did not come to the conclusion a lot earlier to take on Plan B[internal only demolition] and you were still trying to demolish the whole building, which was obviously, it was a cost savings measure, but it wasn’t essential to what we wanted here. Why didn’t that decision come earlier?”
But before Mr Fitzsimons could even answer, new board member, Jayne Battey, piled on, asking, “If you knew in October that you weren’t going to make February [the deadline], was there any effort to contact staff or the board to let us know that you were not going to be compliant? Mr Fitzsimons of Wells Fargo responded by explaining some of the history of getting bids and how future plans for the plaza, once sold, will almost certainly include full demolition of the structure without answering the question of whether they updated the Water Board in a timely manner of the changes. Board member Battey continued, returning to the topic of collecting bids for demolition, claiming, “I have a lot of experience in this area and it’s hard for me not to believe that people really did the best they can do.” Documents available from the Water Board’s website show that starting in November 2016, Wells Fargo was required to provide biweekly progress reports in writing. None of the biweekly reports submitted indicated anything about expected delays in meeting the February deadline.
As the Marinwood Plaza portion of the meeting drew to a close, the Water Board’s Executive Officer, Bruce Wolfe, explained that the next steps will include revising its original cleanup order to bring it up to date with current developments. This revised cleanup order will be circulated for public comment and, barring any hurdles, be approved. In his testimony to the board, Mr Wolfe indicated that enforcement against the two violations is being considered. The Clean Up Marinwood Plaza Now Oversight Committee indicated they are in the process of submitting a formal written request to Mr Wolfe to press for adding enforcement and penalties to next month’s agenda.
About The Marinwood Plaza Toxic Waste SpillOriginally discovered in 2007, a case with the SF Bay Regional Water Board was opened in 2008 as a result of one or more PCE spills that occurred on the property by former dry cleaning businesses. California law holds the property owner responsible for any and all cleanup caused by such a chemical spill. The Marinwood Plaza owners were ordered by the Regional Water Board to supply an approved remediation plan by September 1st, 2016 and clean up the source of the PCE plume by February 1st, 2017. While a cleanup plan has been submitted, it was late adn hasn’t yet been approved. The source excavation cleanup is still incomplete. California Water Code Section 13350 allows the Regional Water Board to impose fines of up to $5,000 per violation day. Oversight committee members say they will be demanding the maximum fine allowed.
Video recording of February Water Board Meeting
The RWQCB February meeting agenda
Original RWQCB cleanup order from Feb 2014:
Letter from Marin County Supervisor to Regional Water Board
Property Owner’s Request for Extension to 1 March:
The RWQCB follow-up order from June 21st 2016
The original RWQCB April 19th 2016 order is here:
Clean Up Marinwood Plaza Now Oversight Committee info: