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Media Coverage
Richmond May Face Costly Yard Cleanup
March 28, 1998



Saturday, March 28, 1998
Section: news
Page: A03
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND Regulators say the city may be facing a multimillion-dollar cleanup at its corporation yard because chemicals may be seeping into the ground water.

The San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board believes the problem may have been caused by years of carelessness, despite the city's participation in countywide pollution prevention programs.

"It's very obvious that it has been ongoing for some time," said George Leyva, inspector for the board. "It's not a one-time thing."

The board has ordered the city to determine the extent of soil and groundwater contamination and to identify the chemicals used for asphalt cleaning.

Failure to respond could result in fines of up to $1,000 a day, Leyva said.

The order came Tuesday in the form of a permit violation notice to Richmond Public Works Superintendent Arlanders Etheley, who supervises the yard.

Neither Etheley nor his supervisor, Deputy City Manager Henry Tingle, could be reached for comment Friday.

If the ground water is contaminated, the board could recommend further cleanup, including years of pumping and filtering, which could cost the city millions of dollars, Leyva said.

The city of Concord spent about $2 million cleaning up about 9,000 cubic yards or 900 dump-truck loads of soil and ground water contaminated by buried gasoline and fuel tanks on Market Street.

Leyva first inspected Richmond's 13th Street yard on Feb. 27 after being called by Councilman Tom Butt, who spotted workers spewing a sloppy spray of diesel products while on a citywide tour with Richmond businessman Corky Booze.

The spray had sent a 30-foot oil slick into the back yard of Alfredo and Elisa Ornelas, who have a 10-month-old daughter, Melissa.

The asphalt cleaning operation was right up against a fence separating the yard from the Ornelas' property.

At least seven 55-gallon oil drums were stored there, and the ground was soaked with oil.

Although the city has done a good job cleaning up the site, it may need to do more, said Leyva, who did another inspection last week.

"It's an immediate fix for the gross contamination, but there's a good chance that the diesel has percolated into the ground water," he said.

The board, which issues the city's storm water discharge permit, could also recommend "enforcement actions" against Richmond for failing to prevent the spill and for failing to educate corporation yard personnel on the proper handling of waste chemicals, the notice says.

State and federal laws require all Bay Area cities to prevent water pollution through a storm water management program. Richmond property owners pay at least $32 annually for the city's share of the $2 million Contra Costa Clean Water Program, which is about 5 years old.

Meanwhile, the city is working toward an out-of-court settlement with the Ornelas family.

Councilman John Marquez and acting City Manager Leveron Bryant met with the family on March 13 to discuss cleanup and other mitigation measures, including possibly purchasing the home and relocating the family and providing medical and health assistance.