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Debris moving brings environmental concerns

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
March 30, 2018

The removal of debris from a Snyder Lane road improvement project from around two years ago is garnering environmental concerns from a community member after the debris was moved from the work site to a spot near the location of the new Rohnert Park water tank, which is slated to be built on a portion of a 128-acre designated scenic hill and historical site near Petaluma Hill Road. While city officials say the debris has tested to be unharmful where it sits near Hinebaugh Creek waiting to be reused for a water tank access road, one community member familiar with the area who wished to remain anonymous, is still worried about the effects of the debris and alleges that it was wrongfully dumped on the site.

In 2016 the City of Rohnert Park made major changes to Snyder Lane, including widening the lanes to accommodate growth in the city from several housing development projects, such as the University District and the Canon Major Specific Plan. 

Argonaut Contractors took on the project along with Toby’s Trucking who were charged with hauling the road work debris, which is usually recycled or taken to a plant to determine if the materials can be reused. The anonymous community member alleges that the debris was illegally dumped on the designated scenic hill site, instead of being taken to the plant.

According to anonymous, after the transfer of the debris from the work site to the scenic hill site, anonymous spoke with Toby workers who were told by contractors to take the debris to the hillside near the future site of the water tank. Anonymous said they could not get the names of the workers as they didn’t want to face any retaliation. Anonymous says the owner of Argonaut Contractors told her the Argonaut supervisor in charge of that project suddenly quit following the debris transfer.

However, Rohnert Park Director of Developmental Services, Mary Grace Pawson, said the debris was moved there for a clear and OK purpose, to be reused for paving a road that would lead to the new water tank.

“What we had was an aggregate based (debris) that had been removed from the project. It is going to be reused to pave the road for water tank access… and we got the city’s OK,” Pawson said.

Despite a city “OK,” the debris being near a creek is still a valid concern. Anonymous said she spoke with a supervisor from the local CalTrans office and explained the debris dump and the accompanying environmental concerns. According to her, the supervisor said of the project, “CalTrans knows of it (the project) but not of the dumping… and any dump should be taken to a plant/dump and it is illegal to dump near a waterway.”

The Community Voice reached out to CalTrans Public Information Officer, Alejandro Lopez, to inquire about what the typical procedure is for transferring and disposing of debris, however, he said he could not answer the questions as the project was a city project, not a state project.

“The questions that you are asking are related to the City of Rohnert Park projects. Their process for handling debris removal may be different than for a state project,” Lopez said in an email. He said the questions should be directed to RP Director of Public Works, John McArthur.

McArthur said the city typically does try to reuse its debris instead of sending it to a landfill since often times the materials are too good of a commodity to waste.

“We generally recycle and reuse project debris, but it does depend on a few things… If the debris is contaminated and down in the dirt and rock then that cannot be reused,” McArthur explained. “A lot of the time the asphalt grindings will be reconstituted with emulsion and on some projects they will do that on site. They reconstitute it with oil and lay it right back down. Other times it can be taken to a plant, so it does not usually end up in a landfill, it is almost always reused.”

McArthur pointed to an example where a large pile of debris sits near Highway 101 near Shiloh Road, waiting to be reused. “There is about a 6-foot stack of demolished fire debris on Shiloh Road,” he said

However, the Snyder Lane debris isn’t sitting on a road, it is at the undeveloped water tank site, which still boasts lush grass, a local habitat of animals and the stream that is Hinebaugh Creek. And while the Snyder Lane road project wasn’t a state project, state roadway projects like to usually follow their own careful environmental criteria.

For instance, CalTrans Rules and Requirements document extensively discusses environmental stewardship and has countless rules and regulations for dealing with the protection of environmental resources such as water. 

According to their section in air, water and noise pollution control, “Successfully protecting water resources (streams, waterways and other bodies of water) and protected water-dependent species from pollution is critical to the project’s success.”

During debris removal, contractors must have an environmentally approved removal site approved by a consultant with the team’s environmental unit.  

According to Pawson, the debris was tested by an engineer (GHD Engineers) and is being monitored by the local water agency.  Before joining the developmental services team with Rohnert Park, Pawson worked for GHD as a project manager. Pawson has now been with Rohnert Park for several years.

Neighbors who live near the 128-acre site say they are worried about the city’s plans for the water tank project as a whole but did not want to be named and did not want a full interview. 

Pawson said of the debris on the site, “It is being monitored by the water protection agency to make sure that it won’t run off…” and that the recycling process is, “...A great process consistent with diversity materials from landfills. The materials are just too valuable to dispose of.”

However, anonymous pointed out that when dealing with major city projects and debris dumping even if it is to be reused, it is important to remember that it’s still a scenic and historical hill and one that should be treated with care and preservation. “It is a 1988 designated landmark hill,” anonymous said.