I remember back in Benicia’s crude-by-rail days, when Deputy Attorney General Scott Lichtig of Attorney General Kamala Harris’ staff wrote to the City of Benicia. He wrote first in 2014 urging revision of an “inadequate” Draft EIR, and again in 2016, defending the City’s right to deny a land use permit. Lichtig advised our city leaders, “For Benicia to turn a blind eye to the most serious of the Project’s environmental impacts, merely because they flow from federally-regulated rail operations, would be contrary to both state and federal law.”
There were a LOT of us who worked long and hard to defeat Valero’s dangerous and dirty oil train proposal. Local activists and folks from far and wide disagreed with City staff and Valero’s execs and highly paid attorneys. We criticized, protested and sent volumes of comments over the course of 3 ½ years. Scientific and environmental experts and friendly attorneys weighed in. But it was eye-opening for everyone when the Attorney General’s office got involved.
But… note that the AG letter wasn’t enough. It’s important here for us to not dwell on the past or get too optimistic. Stay tuned via Fresh Air Vallejo and keep up the good work.
…because ORCEM/VMT wants to run 552 trucks a day up and down Lemon Street! We stand in solidarity with residents, business owners and all of our neighbors in Vallejo. And it’s important to realize that the truck exhaust will travel by air west to east, settling, surely, in Glen Cove and Benicia.
Let’s hope the Vallejo City Council has the backbone Benicia had in 2016, to DENY THIS PROPOSED CATASTROPHIC PROJECT!
Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff reiterated Tuesday night that a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) being completed for a controversial south Vallejo project won’t be released until early next year.
Toward the end of the Vallejo City Council meeting, Nyhoff addressed the contents of a four-page advertising insert paid for by the project applicants and published in the Times-Herald on Nov. 22.
He took issue with a statement printed on top of the insert asserting that the FEIR being prepared for the Vallejo Marine Terminal, Orcem Americas project would be released “within a matter of days.”
“I just want to clarify — it looks like it’s official news. That’s not the case,” Nyhoff said to the councilors. “No — this report won’t be coming out within a matter of days.”
VMT and Orcem representative Sue Vaccaro said via email on Wednesday that the Times-Herald’s deadline to submit artwork for the insert was Nov. 9, several days prior to Nyhoff’s original announcement during the Nov. 13 council meeting that release of the FEIR would be delayed.
“By that time, due to the two weeks of lead time required in accordance with the newspaper’s specifications, there was not an opportunity to update that two-line reference,” Vaccaro wrote. “In short, we were acting in good faith based on the City Manager’s comments at the time the artwork was submitted for print … obviously, had we known what was coming out from the Attorney General’s Office and subsequent delay ordered by the City Manager, we wouldn’t have made that reference.”
However, in a phone interview on Thursday, Nyhoff disagreed, noting that despite previously saying in September that the FEIR would be released toward the end of November, both the city and applicants knew the report wouldn’t be released in November — even before the DOJ letter was sent to the city.
“Everyone still knew we weren’t going to meet that deadline,” Nyhoff explained. He said the city and consultants are still waiting to hear back from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which is still reviewing information about the project.
Nyhoff said during the council meeting, and again on Thursday, that City Hall will also be looking into additional claims made in the insert, including the $1 million benefits program, and the Lemon Street maintenance program being offered by the applicants.
He said it’s important to make sure Lemon Street is going to be taken care of, due to the large volume of trucks trips — about 552 — expected daily. Nyhoff said analyzing truck traffic and its impact to surrounding streets near Lemon is also needed.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Justice sent city officials a 13-page letter warning that environmental documents, a draft final environmental impact report (DFEIR), an Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), and Revised Air Analysis prepared for project are misleading and violate state law.
“The environmental documents for the project fail to provide adequate legal support for the City of Vallejo to approve the project,” Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California, wrote on behalf of state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The DFEIR fails to adequately disclose, analyze, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the project; the EJA improperly concludes that the project would not disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, and thus misleads decision makers and the public by minimizing the projects significant environmental justice concerns.”
The Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in 2017 to reject the VMT/Orcem project, agreeing with City Hall that the project would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, that it would impact traffic around the area and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall said at the time.
City officials argued in 2017 that since a rejection was being recommended, an FEIR was not required.
Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and in June 2017, when reviewing the appeal, a majority of the council — Jess Malgapo, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, Hermie Suna, and Pippin Dew-Costa — directed City Hall to complete the impact report.
Once the FEIR is completed, Nyhoff previously said the report will be circulated for at least 60 days prior to the council taking up the appeal again.
DOJ sends letter, states reports on Orcem/VMT project are misleading
By JOHN GLIDDEN, November 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm
The California Department of Justice has sent city officials a scathing letter arguing environmental documents prepared for the Orcem Americas and Vallejo Marine Terminal project are misleading and violate state law.
In the 13-page letter obtained by this newspaper, Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California, contends that a draft final environmental impact report (DFEIR),
an Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), and Revised Air Analysis, contain flawed data which prevents the Vallejo City Council from making an informed decision about the controversial project proposed for development in South Vallejo.
“The environmental documents for the project fail to provide adequate legal support for the city of Vallejo to approve the project,” Ganahl wrote on behalf of state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The DFEIR fails to adequately disclose, analyze, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the project; the EJA improperly concludes that the project would not disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, and thus misleads decision makers and the public by minimizing the projects significant environmental justice concerns.”
Ganahl urges city leaders to either revise, or consider recirculating the DFEIR but she and the DOJ stop short of taking an official position on the project. The impact report is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which identifies significant environmental impacts of a proposed development and the ways the impacts can be mitigated.
VMT has applied to open a modern deep-water terminal, while Orcem is seeking approval to operate a cement facility with both projects located on 31 acres at 790 and 800 Derr St.
The project, if built, is expected to generate 552 truck trips per day, along with 200 rail car trips per week. According to the letter, 509 of the truck trips would travel through the nearby residential community. Four large vessels, and an average of 3.5 smaller vessels are expected to be unloaded each month. One of the more unsettling portions of the letter addresses the DFEIR’s revised Air Quality Analysis, which, according to Ganahl, suffers from significant analytical flaws. Ganahl cites a particular flaw with the amount of proposed diesel pollution expected to be generated from the engines of docked ships. “Based on these faulty assumptions, the Revised Air Analysis estimates an excess lifetime risk of 18 per million (unmitigated) or 9 per million (with mitigations),” she wrote. “But using the appropriate assumptions, the excess lifetime cancer risk from the project would be 627 per million, nearly 35 times the unmitigated risk and 70 times the mitigated risk disclosed in the revised analysis.”
Ganahl further argues that the Revised Air Analysis also underestimates the project’s toxic air contaminant emissions, which relies on flawed assumptions that the project will not result in any chromium, arsenic or cadmium emissions, “and will result in only minimal lead emissions.”
“In fact,” she writes “relying on appropriate assumptions reveals that the project will emit toxic air contaminants, including approximately 18 times the amount of lead disclosed in the revised analysis.” Ganahl argues the analysis uses “inappropriate modeling techniques” that undercut the conclusions reached in the documents. She goes on to recommend that the analysis be revised using the proper assumptions.
“The likelihood that the project’s air impacts will be far greater than disclosed in the environmental review documents is troubling on its own,” she wrote. “And is more so given the surrounding communities’ already heavy pollution burden and high rates of pollution-related illness. These analytical flaws must be cured, and the data and analysis be made publicly available, before the project is considered for approval.
“It is essential that the public and decision makers be made aware of the project’s true impacts, and that those impacts be mitigated to less-than-significant levels, if the project is to move forward,” she added.
Ganahl bashes the DFEIR for failing to consider the significant impact if coal and/or petcoke were transported through the terminal. “The DFEIR states that the terminal would not handle coal or any other petroleum- based products,” Ganahl said. “But, the DFEIR does not point to any enforceable condition that would prevent the handling or transport of coal through the terminal or guarantee that no coal could be transported through the terminal.”
“Transportation of coal can have serious and far reaching environmental and human health impacts,” she added.
The letter also contends the documents fail to take into account the area’s current environmental condition, which includes “the high number of contaminated sites, leaking underground storage tanks, and contributors to air pollutants such as nearby refineries and freeways.”
The letter notes the California Environmental Protection Agency, through use of a special tool, can rank every census tract in the state based off of socioeconomic, environmental, and health information. Those numbers suggest that the area in South Vallejo ranks high for the number of sites contaminated with harmful chemicals, and impaired water bodies.
“The communities have an extraordinary high rate of asthma (99th percentile) and cardiovascular disease (96th percentile), both conditions that are caused and exacerbated by air pollution,” Ganahl wrote. “Babies born from this area are more likely than 83 percent of babies in the state to be born with a low birth weight.”
Ganahl takes aim in her letter at the Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA) prepared for the project.
The EJA reviews how a certain project might have a disproportional impact on minority and low-income communities living near a proposed site.
Calling it “misleading,” and “illogical” she explains that the analysis compares impacted areas to that of Vallejo’s general population — instead of comparing the areas to Solano County, the state, or a comparable area. “Using Vallejo as the point of comparison skews the significance of the proposition of low-income and minority households in the impact areas because Vallejo itself has significantly greater minority and low-income populations than Solano County, the State of California and the United States,” she wrote.
A data table taken from the analysis shows that the two impacted areas have a minority population of 76.8 percent and 75.7 percent, respectively. The city has a similar minority population of 75.4 percent the same report states.
“Comparing the impact areas to the city’s populations, the EJA concludes that the impact areas do not have a significantly greater minority population than Vallejo, and thus there is not a minority population that could suffer a disproportionate impact from the project,” she wrote. “Where a project’s impact area plainly has a high proportion of minority residents — in this case roughly 76 percent minority — it strains logic to state that there is not a minority community that will be disproportionately impacted.”
Many in the local community have expressed concern that the project will harm the surrounding neighborhoods and city. Peter Brooks, president of Fresh Air Vallejo, a group opposed to the project, said he wasn’t surprised by the contents of the DOJ letter.
“Today, the Department of Justice confirmed what we’ve been saying for three years, that Orcem/VMT’s pollution and traffic would be an injustice to our community,” he wrote in an email to the Times-Herald. “It was never a good idea to propose a cement factory so close to homes and an elementary school.”
Meanwhile, Sue Vacarro, on behalf of Orcem, inquired about the timing of the DOJ letter.
“We are surprised at the timing of the AG office’s comments, referencing a nearly 2-year-old document, rather than wait another 2-weeks to see the Final EIR, but after reviewing the AG’s comments we believe they will all be thoroughly addressed when the FEIR is published later this month,” she wrote in an email to the Times-Herald.
“Orcem and VMT’s goal from the beginning has been to provide a state of the art facility that minimizes the environmental and community impacts while providing our sustainable building materials, terminal services and living wage jobs to Vallejo,” she added. “Our understanding today is that after exhaustive analyses, the City’s environmental consultants and the regulatory agency for air quality in the Bay Area, arguably the toughest in the world, agree we have done so.”
The path to a council vote regarding the project has been lengthy. The Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in the first half of 2017 to reject the VMT/Orcem project, agreeing with City Hall that the project would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, that it would impact traffic around the area and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall argued.
City Hall originally completed the DFEIR — stating that a final impact report wasn’t necessary since it was recommending denial of the project.
Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and during the June 2017 City Council hearing four of the council members — Jess Malgapo, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, Hermie Suna, and Pippin Dew-Costa — directed City Hall to complete the impact report before ruling on the appeal. The city, along with third-party consultants are finishing up the impact report. It’s expected to be released this month with the City Council deciding on the appeal in January.