An environmental justice group has sued the Port of Oakland in an effort to stop construction of a controversial open-air sand and gravel plant, which it alleges would dirty the air in surrounding neighborhoods.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, accuses the port of failing to adequately analyze how the operation could harm residents’ health and what it can do to reduce that.
“This sand and gravel project would have severe negative impacts on the health of the people in my community,” Margaret Gordon, the organization’s co-founder and a former port commissioner, said in a written statement. “The Port of Oakland commissioners appear to be completely ignoring the public health impacts that would be caused.”
The port’s board of commissioners last month approved a12-year lease allowing Eagle Rock Aggregates to build the facility on 18 acres. The company plans to store and distribute sand that’s used for ready-mix concrete in Bay Area construction projects.
Port officials declined to comment on the lawsuit but have previously said the project offers an opportunity to diversify their tenant base. The operation is expected to generate between $43 million and $60 million in profits and has gotten support from unions whose members will benefit from resulting jobs.
But in its suit, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project says dust and particulates can blow off the 2.5 million tons of imported sand and gravel to be stored in 25-foot-high piles, adding to the risk of respiratory illnesses already disproportionately faced by nearby residents. Plus, the increased ship and truck trips to and from the facility will increase air and water pollution, the lawsuit warns.
“The result is an environmental analysis that is clearly inadequate under state environmental law and an approval that disregards significant environmental and health impacts to the community in West Oakland, which has long suffered environmental burdens in excess of most other communities in the Bay Area, the State, and the nation,” said Laura Beaton, an attorney at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger who is representing the plaintiffs.
West Oakland residents are already exposed to more diesel particulates than 98% of Californians and have higher rates of asthma and newborn babies with low birth weight, according to the state’s online tool for mapping air pollution.
The suit adds to those alarming statistics. In 2018 about a quarter of the students at the West Oakland Middle School had asthma or breathing problems, according to the suit. And in 2016 West Oakland children under age 5 experienced 76% higher asthma emergency or hospital visits than the Alameda County average.
Port officials and staff noted prior to the February vote they are doing everything they can to mitigate the environmental impacts without creating too much of a burden on the future tenant. The port will require Eagle Rock to use electric conveyors and prevent its trucks from taking the residential stretch of Interstate 880 between West Grand Avenue and 7th Street
Further mitigation measures would be too costly or burdensome, Port Executive Director Danny Wan said in an interview in January. He said covering the piles with an enclosure would cost about $60 million.
The environmental analysis of the project also has been questioned by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the state Attorney General’s Office, all of whom sent letters to the port during the process.