CROWS LANDING — More than 40 people showed up at Bonita School on Tuesday to question the impacts of the proposed PCCP West Park industrial center, as well as the objectivity of the environmental review process itself.
The scoping meeting provided a public forum for residents to ask questions about air quality, water and other matters to do with the 4,800-acre project. Those questions will be incorporated into the project’s environmental impact report.
“The idea is to draw the tough questions out,” said Jack Doering, Stanislaus County counsel, after Tuesday’s meeting.
PCCP West Park LLC hopes to build an industrial park in and around a former naval airfield in Crows Landing, which is now mostly owned by the county. It would include an intermodal hub, where goods would be moved to and from the Port of Oakland by rail.
County supervisors voted 4-1 on April 22 to move ahead with negotiations with developer Gerry Kamilos. Project representatives say the industrial park would provide 37,000 jobs when complete and would reduce regional air pollution and traffic by using trains rather than trucks.
Critics have generally taken aim at its size and focused on fears of increased road traffic, worsened air quality and the consequences of rail traffic through the city of Patterson.
All those issues were raised once again Tuesday, and attendees also asked about water for the project and the surrounding community.
Crows Landing resident and project critic John Schuler asked what kind of train engines would be used to transport goods between West Park and the Port of Oakland and whether they would use clean diesel. Kamilos replied that clean-fuel technology would be used from the get-go.
Grayson activist Rosenda Mataka asked about particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions and wondered about the safety of children at Bonita School, which would be 1½ miles away from the project. She said she wanted to make sure some of the most vulnerable residents — pregnant women and children — would not suffer ill health effects because of the project.
“We all want to protect our environment, but what it comes down to is human health,” Mataka said.
She also expressed uncertainty about what West Park would mean for the water supply for local farmers and farm workers.
Others wanted to know where the water for the project would come from.
Crows Landing resident Kathi Peichoto said Kamilos had told her that water sources in Contra Costa County and the city of Indian Wells would provide water for the project. Kamilos denied giving specifics about a water source.
“I don’t feel that the cards are being laid out on the table like they should be,” Peichoto said.
Kirk Ford, the county’s interim planning director, said West Park’s water source is not yet known. Still, he and others stressed that the project would not go forward if an adequate water source was not found.
Patterson resident Sandy McDowell said the water question was particularly pertinent, given recent problems with water quality in the developing community of Diablo Grande southwest of Patterson.
Ford said the county had learned from the Diablo Grande approval process after several environmental lawsuits were filed. Several unconvinced attendees groaned in disbelief.
Fair and balanced?
Some at the meeting were also cynical about the environmental review process itself.
EDAW, a consulting firm that has represented West Park at past events, is writing the environmental impact report, and a fair and balanced review was paramount in the minds of some at the meeting.
“I think that it is totally appropriate that people are questioning the neutrality of the process,” Mataka said.
EDAW representatives, however, noted that several agencies, including the state Department of Fish and Game, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would comment on the document. West Park’s proposal would have to meet all existing environmental regulations.
Francine Dunn, a principal for environmental planning and compliance for EDAW, said after the meeting that the firm has done several environmental impact reports in the past, and its reputation depends on showing objectivity.
In addition to working with West Park, EDAW has worked with the county on a study of the Interstate 5 corridor.
EDAW facilitator Jeff Goldman tried to reassure attendees that the county is ultimately responsible for the EIR and its board of supervisors will decide on the document with a majority vote.
Keith Boggs, the county’s deputy executive officer for economic development, said after the meeting that attendees had asked good questions.
The public review period for a “notice of preparation” of the report opened June 18 and will last until Aug. 11, allowing people to state their opinions on what topics the environmental impact report should cover and to suggest environmental alternatives for the project.
That notice, which is available on the county’s Crows Landing Air Facility Web site, received an addendum June 25 that provides more information about past studies on the project and on the need for a specific plan for West Park.
Consultants with EDAW anticipate a draft environmental impact report should be ready in spring or early summer 2009. There will be 45 days to comment on the draft before consultants begin work on the final report. That document should be ready to go before county supervisors near the end of 2009.
The report will provide information about the entire project, but it will have greater detail on the 1,886-acre first phase.
If all goes as planned for the developer, construction on infrastructure and some buildings could start as soon as spring 2010.
District conservationist Christopher Hartley of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service said a host of issues must be examined, including water, drainage and off-site impacts.
“I think a lot of questions need to be answered,” he said. “I hope that the EIR will be able to do that. … I’m happy that a lot of people are still interested.”
To reach Jonathan Partridge at the Irrigator, call 892-6187 or e-mail him at email@example.com