Vallejo releases unfinished Orcem/VMT report after community demands

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Community demands spur release

By John Glidden, March 26, 2019 at 12:02 pm | UPDATED: March 27, 2019 at 1:35 pm
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for South Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

Amid growing pressure from the community and applicants, the city of Vallejo on Tuesday released an unfinished draft version of the updated Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Orcem/VMT project proposed for development in South Vallejo.

In a message posted to the city’s website, staff cautioned that the lengthy document, in its current form, is not ready to be presented to the council for certification and possible project approval under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“As of this date, clarification is needed as to who is the responsible party for certain indemnity and mitigation measures, and who has site control and ownership of the project site,” staff wrote in its message. “While this clarification is obtained processing of the EIR has been paused.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said he agreed with City Hall’s decision to release the report.

“(The city has) been pressured to release the EIR,” he said. “Both sides have asked that it be released, and the public has the right to go through it.”

However, the City Council has yet to certify the contents of the FEIR, he warned.

Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT) wants to build a deep-water terminal, while Orcem Americas is seeking to build a cement facility. Both projects would be located on the same 31 acres at 790 and 800 Derr St. next to the Mare Island Strait in South Vallejo.

VMT/Orcem opponents and supporters wait to hear the decision from the Vallejo City Council in 2017 at City Hall in Vallejo. (Chris Riley — Times-Herald file)

Release of the report comes nearly two years after the council directed city staff to complete and finalize the EIR.

Orcem has been one of the more vocal voices, spending money on various advertising in the Times-Herald, demanding City Hall release the document for public review.

Steve Bryan, president of Orcem Americas, said his team was surprised by the sudden release of the document.

“We haven’t had time to review the document, but we were very surprised today,” Bryan wrote in an email. “Like everyone else, we were expecting the Final EIR. The City Attorney’s February 25th letter stated the City was ready to release March 1st, not another Draft FEIR.”

Opponents of the project have insisted on release of the report. They’ve expressed concern the development, if built, will harm the surrounding neighborhoods and city.

Peter Brooks, president of Fresh Air Vallejo, a group opposed to the project, said on Tuesday that the group was not surprised by the release of the unfinished document.

“We are prepared to go through the report with a fine-toothed comb,” he wrote in an email to the Times-Herald.

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.

Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem officials in the front row react after the Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in March 2017 to reject the proposed project.

City officials argued in 2017 that since a rejection was being recommended, a FEIR was not required. At the time, city leaders called the first iteration of the document a draft FEIR. The report released on Tuesday is an updated version.

Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and in June 2017 when reviewing the appeal, a majority of the then-council directed City Hall to complete the impact report.

Since then, numerous agencies have issued letters of concern with the project as they reviewed the first version of the DFEIR.

The 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 DFEIR, an Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), and the Revised Air Analysis were misleading.

“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.”

Just this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) issued a letter concluding that if the Orcem portion of the project was built, it 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.

City Hall said in its Tuesday message that staff expects to provide the City Council a progress report on the project by April 23.