On the agenda for the May 9 Fremont City Planning Commission meeting was whether to recommend a green light on the Patterson Ranch development grading and soil removal project, if bioremediation is deemed unacceptable. The recent EIR addendum identified toxic chemicals such as toxaphene and other toxins in the soil that are extremely hazardous to human health.

Several citizens expressed concerns that: 1) There was only one week notice for the meeting, which was not enough time to read the 500-page report or to respond adequately; and 2) The current plan has not adequately addressed the issue of removal of tons of toxic soil and its impact on the surrounding community. Also, please note the site was rejected by the school system as being too vulnerable and expensive for a school to be constructed to accommodate the proposed 500 dwellings.

Land bounded by Paseo Padre Parkway, Ardenwood Boulevard, and the Alameda Creek channel is seen here in the foreground with Coyote Hills Regional Park seen
Land bounded by Paseo Padre Parkway, Ardenwood Boulevard, and the Alameda Creek channel is seen here in the foreground with Coyote Hills Regional Park seen in the background, in Fremont, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. (Anda Chu/Staff)Land bounded by Paseo Padre Parkway, Ardenwood Boulevard, and the Alameda Creek channel is seen here in the foreground with Coyote Hills Regional Park seen in the background, in Fremont, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. (Anda Chu/Staff)

Among the audience were several scientists who testified on the toxicity of toxaphene and other similar toxic chemicals present in the soil.

Members of the public were concerned about toxic dust during the project removal phase, during truck transport, and when the soil is dumped into the pit of the Dumbarton Quarry.

All these locations are subject to high winds. The current plan is to use tarps to cover these tons of toxic soils during truck transport.

However, the plan is to remove about 120,000 cubic yards of toxic soil in two months, about 180 truck trips a day. Despite the proposed safeguards from the applicant, the rapid and continuous loading, transport and unloading of these soils in high-wind areas will likely result in some -- perhaps significant amounts -- of toxic soil and dust that will escape into the air and along the transport routes, especially in the short two-month time expected to complete this mass movement. These toxins could spread, accumulate and persist in the surrounding environment.

Throughout the meeting, it appeared the commissioners were listening to the concerns, but this was just a pretense, as they had already made up their minds what they were going to decide.

For example, one commissioner frequently complimented the applicant on the report, but he erroneously concluded that all the people in the audience who expressed their concerns wanted a no-build option. This was not true. The public simply wanted the risks to be adequately addressed so there was no human health hazard.

Concerned citizens wanted the commission to recommend that more time be allowed (i.e., more than just one week) for review. Or, at least recommend that the applicant come up with a more specific plan that spelled out how the toxic dust would be reduced to insignificant levels or contained in a way that would not pose a health risk to the surrounding community. However, the commissioner recommended proceeding with the grading project, with limited risk management and no further research.

Following the testimony of the public, final statements were presented by the applicant and the commissioners. Despite the attempts, the public was not allowed a rebuttal to the assumptions or incorrect conclusions made by both the applicant and the commissioners -- a typical procedure for these agenda meetings.

Once again, citizens were exposed to a long exercise in futility.

Wayne W. Miller is an environmental scientist and Newark resident.