Vallejo’s VMT/Orcem project over

Applicant pulls appeal; opponents celebrate

By John Glidden, Vallejo Times Herald, May 24, 2019 at 6:49 pm
Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem officials in the front row react after the planning commission voted 6-1 in March 2017 to reject the proposed project. – John Glidden — Times-Herald file
Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem officials in the front row react after the planning commission voted 6-1 in March 2017 to reject the proposed project. – John Glidden — Times-Herald file

Vallejo’s VMT/Orcem debate — a hot-button, contentious fight that consumed the city for years — is over.

Almost six years after an application to build a deep-water terminal and cement facility on 31 acres of land along the Mare Island Strait was submitted, the Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT) and Orcem Americas project came to an official end on Friday.

Attorney Krista Kim, who currently represents VMT, sent a letter to City Hall on Friday confirming VMT’S decision to drop its appeal of a 2017 decision by the city’s Planning Commission denying the Orcem/VMT project.

“VMT no longer supports the project and will not pursue the appeal,” Kim wrote in the brief four-line statement.

Orcem Americas President Steve Bryan couldn’t be reached for comment. Attempts by this newspaper to reach Kim on Friday were also unsuccessful.

Peter Brooks, president of Fresh Air Vallejo, a group opposed to the project, said he was surprised but also happy with VMT’s move to withdraw its appeal.

“VMT sees Vallejo the same way we see Vallejo. It’s just a new time for our community,” he said. “It sends a clear message that Vallejo is business friendly for the right businesses to help our city prosper.”

The Vallejo City Hall Council Chamber is completely filled prior to a 2017 special planning commission meeting regarding the VMT/Orcem project application (John Glidden — Times-Herald)

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said by phone after news broke about VMT’s action that he was happy to have the city move forward.

“I’m very pleased this divisive issue has been resolved and that we’re going to be moving forward,” he said.

VMT had sought to build a deep-water terminal, while Orcem aimed to construct a cement facility — with both projects located on the same 31 acres of land at 790 and 800 Derr St. next to the Mare Island Strait in South Vallejo.

While the FEIR was being finalized, several agencies weighed in on the project, which, had it been built, would have generated over 500 truck trips per day, along with 200 rail car trips per week.

The California Department of Justice in November 2018 sent city officials a scathing letter arguing environmental documents prepared for the project were misleading and violate state law.

“The likelihood that the project’s air impacts will be far greater than disclosed in the environmental review documents is troubling on its own,” wrote Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California. “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.

The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for south Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in March of this year sent City Hall a letter, concluding the Orcem portion of the project 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.

Friday’s unexpected news comes just days before the Vallejo City Council was scheduled to resume its hearing on the appeal. A divided council in June 2017 directed City Hall to complete a Final  Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) on the possible impacts generated by the project.

Vice Mayor Pippin Dew, Hermie Sunga, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, and former Vallejo Councilmember Jess Malgapo indicated in that June 2017 meeting that they wished to see the final report to help them decide on the appeal.

Almost two years after that, the city released what it called a new draft FEIR, stating the document wasn’t ready to be presented to the council for certification and possible project approval under the California Environmental Quality Act. Staff cited the lack of necessary information and cooperation from the VMT applicants.

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

The appeal came after the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny the project, as several commissioners cited “quality of life” concerns with the project. City Hall asked the commission to reject the project, stating it would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, negatively 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.

Landis Graden, then-chair of the commission, said during the March 2017 if he would want his mother to live near the VMT/Orcem project.

“I don’t think I would, because of the quality of life,” Graden said in the meeting.

Reached for comment Friday, Commissioner Chris Platzer, the lone vote in support of the VMT/Orcem application, expressed concern the project didn’t have a complete EIR.

“As a planning commissioner, I can only vote on land use issues. I voted against denial of the project because I think that every applicant, no matter how controversial or complex a project, should be afforded a fair and complete EIR,” he wrote in an email to the Times-Herald. “I think it sends the wrong message to developers that the process might last more than 5 years.”

City spokeswoman Joanna Altman confirmed the May 30 council meeting was cancelled. It’s not known if VMT will submit another application to develop the land.