Environmental concerns by a state agency over the safety of a former dump site has caused the City of Oakdale to spend an unexpected $80,000 from its General Fund for environmental cleanup efforts before it can proceed with a grant-financed river trail.
What is now Valley View Park, opened in 2010, with meandering sidewalks and views of the Stanislaus River which sits on a riverside bluff in the northeast corner of town was at one time a municipal dump and trash burn site from 1932 to 1964.
In November 2012, the California Natural Resources Agency awarded the City of Oakdale an $862,625 grant to convert more than 15 acres from the park along the water into a public river parkway including a 750-foot trail.
Earlier this year, even though the city had already started construction as well as a groundbreaking ceremony for the anticipated trail, CalRecycle, after visiting and inspecting the site, issued a “cease and desist” order to the city. Construction to the trail was stopped and the area fenced off.
CalRecycle is the governing environmental agency of the state.
“Whether the trail exists or not, they (CalRecycle) are going to make us do this,” Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said, when advising the city council of the added expense to the city budget. “They’re saying ‘we need to make sure you closed it right under existing standards.’”
As part of the trail planning process, the city previously submitted a “Mitigated Negative Declaration” for the Valley View River Access Trail to the state for review and input. Even though the city had received comments back from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, they didn’t receive any remarks from CalRecycle, until February of this year which instructed the city that any proposed use of the disposal area would require review and approval by them.
Like many old dumpsites, the Oakdale City Dump had no liners to prevent groundwater contamination. It was operating during a time of few government regulations on waste disposal and open burning. Chemicals and carcinogenic toxins released at that time were many. In 1963 the Stanislaus County Department of Public Health and State of California ordered the site to be closed down.
A 1999 report of the area documented evidence of burn waste still along the site and the embankment. Soil samplings revealed levels of dioxins, dioxin compounds, and arsenic that exceeded EPA guidelines for residential developments. Lead concentrations exceeded 10-times threshold concentration levels designated by the EPA. Beryllium concentration found in one area also exceeded residential limits.
At the time of the park construction, the city put a membrane cover over the contaminated soil, covered it with additional soil, and built the park; however, no covering was done over the downslope to the river.
During park construction workers had reported coming across debris during excavating and hitting subsoil that was not suitable for landscape areas.
Now, after tests that included drilling and taking samples 10 feet below the park surface a few weeks ago, the city must spend $80,000 to make the area environmentally safe per CalRecycle.
Thom Clark, public services director, stated that the samples contained debris and glass from the previous dump, but did not know to what extent any hazardous chemicals were. The plan at this point is to cover the designated area with two feet of “clean soil.”
According to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, even trace amounts of lead — particles so tiny they’re barely visible — are enough to cause irreversible health problems in children who ingest or inhale them.
Whitemyer said that the existing grant money does not allow those funds to be used for any environmental cleanup and the city must take on those costs themselves. There is financial assistance possibly available to the city, which it is exploring, but it would require 50 percent matching funds.
Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul said she found it ironic that the agency (CalRecycle) that offered the cleanup grants was the one also “holding their feet to the fire.”
“The whole thing is confusing,” said Paul, who hoped the $80,000 was the ‘max’ the city would pay. “We were allowed to build houses there and everything else. This is why people hate government.”