From the Oct. 2, 2019 edition
Mad River Union
GLENDALE – The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District has appealed the permitting of a Glendale cannabis manufacturing complex, stating that project’s development on a former lumber mill site runs the risk of “contaminating the district’s drinking water supplies.”
Filed on September 19 and revised a week later, the appeal challenges the county Planning Commission’s Sept. 5 approval of the project’s permits. At the hearing, the project site’s uncertain groundwater and soil contamination status was raised as an issue and it’s one that concerned commissioners.
Located on Glendale Drive just east of the Route 299 Exit 4 onramp and off ramp, the site was used for lumber storage by the former McNamara and Peepe Lumber Mill. By the time the mill changed ownership in 1986 and became Blue Lake Forest Products, use of the toxic wood preservative pentachlorophenol (PCP) had been banned.
But the previous PCP use caused soil contamination and in the mid-1990s, the state ordered remedial actions. Capping was done at the mill’s main operations area on a parcel adjacent to the project site.
As of 2003, both sites were deemed to be free of contaminants. But in late 2018, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) declared that contaminants in the soil beneath the capped area had seeped into groundwater that had risen after Blue Lake Forest Products closed in 2002.
That’s a concern for the district – and its 88,000 municipal drinking water customers – because of the potential for contaminants to seep into nearby Hall Creek. The creek flows into the Mad River and the district’s intake wells are located downstream.
Dioxins are a byproduct of PCP and at the permit hearing, Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper questioned why there has been no testing for them.
Although commissioners were concerned about that – with Commissioner Melanie McCavour describing the lack of dioxin testing as “ridiculous” – the permits were approved by a majority of commissioners who felt that it would be unfair to make the applicant responsible for testing.
The district’s appeal focuses on the DTSC’s reliance on the 2003 testing results, the agency’s December 2018 decertification of the remedial actions and a letter sent by DTSC last summer. County planners have described the letter as indicating that there is no PCP contamination of the project site’s soil or groundwater.
The appeal describes information from the agency as conflicting. It asks that “clarification be sought from DTSC as to whether DTSC concludes the site is unambivalently uncontaminated, or whether the 16-year-old data for the site gives no reason to find the site is contaminated and that DTSC is simply unwilling to comment further.”
The county’s Mitigated Negative Declaration environmental review document “misses the mark,” according to the appeal, because once the new development occurs, “Runoff will still occur when the ground at the site is saturated and stormwater capture basins flood during heaving rainfall.”
With the project’s development, “Future stormwater will first interact with the potentially contaminated soils and thus may carry contaminants offsite to Hall Creek and/or the Mad River, the source of water for 88,000 County residents and habitat for ESA listed aquatic species,” the appeal states.
It also notes that both the county and the state “do not address risks related to potential for dioxin contamination at the site because it has never been tested for. Therefore, no one knows the potential scope and concentration of dioxin contamination.”
The appeal describes the lack of testing as a serious omission due to the “extreme toxicity” of dioxins.
Interviewed after the appeal was filed, Kalt said Baykeeper “has been trying to educate the county” because the appealed project is the fourth one that’s been permitted on former mill sites with potential contamination.
“They’re just not listening,” she continued.
The DTSC’s documents are outdated, inaccurate and don’t mention the district’s intakes or critical habitat for salmon and other species, said Kalt.
She said the DTSC’s recent monitoring of the main operations area has shown the highest levels of PCP contamination at the monitoring well nearest the project site and furthest away from the remedial cap.
“They don’t know how far it has spread yet but it’s clearly moving toward the site where the (cannabis) permits were approved,” Kalt continued.
At the permit hearing, county planning staff said that because the DTSC deemed the project site clear of PCP contamination, dioxins aren’t present and don’t need to be tested for. But as Kalt had explained, PCP has a much shorter half-life than dioxins and Baykeeper’s testing of a Eureka site in 2003 found high levels of dioxin even though the site was declared to be free of PCP contamination.
Baykeeper’s appeals of the other permits approved for former mill sites are pending and Kalt said their status is uncertain. There are mitigations for use of former mill sites in the county’s cannabis ordinances but Kalt described them as being inadequate.
“We’re making baby steps, I think, in terms of educating the county on this stuff but it’s an uphill battle,” she said.
The appeal is filed on behalf of the district by the Thomas Law Group firm, which has offices in Sacramento and Oakland.