Air District letter: Orcem cement proposal will increase cancer-causing pollution

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: Note the Orcem president’s insensitive response: “The threshold for approval is not zero new emissions in this community. That would restrict all development in Vallejo, whether it is a grocery store, church or a mill.”  Really, comparing Orcem/VMT to a grocery store or a church? Shame!  – R.S.]

BAAQMD issues letter of concern with Orcem project

By John Glidden, March 6, 2019 at 6:50 pm
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for South Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

Officials with the regional air quality district issued a statement this week communicating their concerns with Orcem California’s plan to build a cement facility in south Vallejo.

In a two-page letter, obtained by this newspaper, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) said after reviewing the project’s Draft Final Environmental Impact Report (DFEIR) they concluded the Orcem project, if built, would increase air pollution.

“The project as proposed will increase air pollution in an already overburdened community and increase the health burden placed on the community from toxic air contaminants including diesel particulate matter, a known carcinogen,” BAAQMD officials wrote after reviewing the stationary sources proposed by Orcem.

BAAQMD officials further said Vallejo has been identified under two different district programs as a community which experiences high exposure to air pollution. The goals of both programs are to reduce the public’s exposure to local sources of air pollution, they wrote.

To mitigate “the potential increase in cancer risk from the stationary sources,” district officials said Orcem would need to install Best Available Control Technology for Toxics (TBACT).

The district said it has received a partial permit application from Orcem, while Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT), which is eyeing creation of a deep-water terminal on the same site, has yet to submit an application to the district. Both projects would be located on 31 acres at 790 and 800 Derr St.

Officials also wrote that without the TBACT and application from VMT, the air district would not be able to provide a permit for the project.

Steve Bryan, president of Orcem California, claimed victory when asked on Wednesday about BAAQMD’s letter.

“We are pleased that our persistence in getting BAAQMD to write the long promised letter finally has paid off,” Bryan wrote in an email to the Times-Herald. “And even more pleased to see that after months of scrutiny and replicating our results, the BAAQMD staff found none of the flaws or deficiencies presented by the primary project opponents, Fresh Air Vallejo, or the Deputy Attorney General’s consultant.

“The results confirm that the Revised Operating Alternative (ROA) project we have proposed in the FEIR is very much improved and avoids significant impacts in air quality and health risks,” he added. “The findings are also consistent with earlier reviews from BAAQMD staff which we discovered completely dismissed Fresh Air Vallejo’s claims as far back as December 2017.”

Bryan also responded to a question regarding the air district’s claim that “the Project will increase air pollution in an already overburdened community.”

“The threshold for approval is not zero new emissions in this community,” Bryan wrote in the same email. “That would restrict all development in Vallejo, whether it is a grocery store, church or a mill. The issue is whether the increase is significant according to BAAQMD, state and federal standards. The analysis of our emissions, reviewed by the BAAQMD, say they are not.”

Peter Brooks, president of Fresh Air Vallejo, expressed puzzlement over Bryan’s comments regarding the air district’s letter.

“It is impossible to imagine how Orcem could read the BAAQMD letter and miss the point: The project as presented would not be permitted because of the increased pollution to an already overburdened community,” Brooks said. “Orcem should worry less about Fresh Air Vallejo and worry more about the people of south Vallejo who would certainly be harmed with its toxic cement factory. Fresh Air Vallejo is not the enemy. Asthma, cancer and injustice are the enemies.”

Attempts to reach the city for comment about BAAQMD’s letter were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

The city released the DFEIR for public review in early 2017 with City Hall prepared to release a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) last week. However, communication issues between the city and VMT caused Vallejo not to release the document as scheduled — it’s not known at this point when the FEIR will be released.

When asked by this newspaper why the nearly two-year delay in providing a response on the DFEIR, Andrea Gordon, senior environmental planner with BAAQMD, and Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the air district, said the complex project required intensive review.

Borrmann provided a timeline to the Times-Herald on Wednesday indicating the district first reviewed the DFEIR in January 2018. The rest of the year was spent meeting with the city, its consultants and Orcem to discuss the draft report.

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, a 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 directed City Hall to complete the impact report.

The project’s FEIR was expected to be released last year until leaders received a 13-page letter from Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California, writing that the project’s draft final environmental impact report (DFEIR), an Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), and the Revised Air Analysis were misleading.