When West Oakland residents who for years had been suffering from air pollution filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Port of Oakland in 2017, the port agreed to a plan that was supposed to reduce the impacts of its industrial operations on the neighborhood.
But now the advocates who brought that complaint are raising the alarm that a new proposal to build an open-air sand and gravel storage facility on port property goes against the spirit of that agreement and will cause further harm against the health of the area’s predominantly Black and Brown residents.
On Thursday, the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on Eagle Rock Aggregates’ poll to build the sand and gravel storage and distribution facility on 18 acres.
The sand material the company distributes is mostly for ready mix concrete used for Bay Area construction projects.
According to port memos, the proposed facility would provide “much needed construction materials, all of which will be used for many local (and regional) construction projects that support housing, the local economy, and local jobs.”
But according to the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, the financial boon would come at a cost to residents’ health.
They say the plant will spew particulates into the air from the massive mounds of sand and rock. Diesel ships that haul the materials will also pollute the air as they idle at the port, said Margaret Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.
Building the facility would also eliminate some truck parking, which could result in more trucks spewing exhaust around West Oakland streets as they struggle to park, the group contends.
Port officials deny that the project will generate harmful pollution.
“The proposed project incorporates environmental-related features that exceed current regulatory requirements including electric trucks for delivery of construction materials, measures to minimize dust from the project site, and an aggressive strategy to reduce vessel emissions,” port spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur wrote in an email . “The proposed project would supply much-needed construction materials to the Bay Area, which will be used for many local construction projects that support housing, the economy, and jobs.
Port officials who spoke at a hearing on the project last month insisted that Eagle Rock Aggregates would institute pollution-fighting measures, including buying four electric trucks to transport the aggregate material, installing a truck tire wash station and using recycled water for dust control.
But critics question whether the Port will enforce those measures, and some believe they do not go far enough.
“It’s not sufficient,” Gordon said Wednesday about the port’s proposed mitigation measures.
During last month’s presentation, as well as in some port memos, officials acknowledged that levels of maritime and truck emissions, exhaust from construction equipment and roadway congestion surrounding the port “may remain significant” even after the mitigation measures are put into place.
“It would not be possible to meet the Port goals and operate the proposed project while also avoiding all significant impacts,” staff wrote in a memo after describing the positive impact on jobs and revenue.
Matthew Hanson, an environmental planner with the Bay Area Air Quality District, told port commissioners the district also “is concerned by the project’s significant and unavoidable (particulate matter) impacts on the West Oakland community.”
And a letter from the district’s Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Greg Nudd urged the port to take further measures to protect residents, including enclosing the proposed open-air gravel facility to reduce the risk of dust traveling throughout the neighborhood, requiring electric or zero-emission trucks to haul between the plants and facilities, and fund zero-emission trucks and other cargo handling equipment at the Port, among other measures.
The port’s board is scheduled to vote on the project at 5 pm Thursday.