The City of Oakdale has received a directive from a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency to halt further construction to the Valley View Park Trail pending a site investigation plan.
In November 2012, the California Natural Resources Agency awarded the City of Oakdale an $862,625 grant to convert more than 15 acres into a river parkway including a 750-foot trail allowing public access to the Stanislaus River from Valley View Park.
Last year, the city submitted a “Mitigated Negative Declaration” for the Valley View River Access Trail to the state for review and input. The City received comments from the Regional Water Quality Control Board but received no comments from CalRecycle or the Department of Toxic Substances Control, governing agencies for such projects.
The city continued to move forward with the design and construction of the trail project.
CalRecycle, a division of the state EPA which regulates and inspects California’s active and closed solid waste landfills, conducted a visit of the Valley View Park site last February and later sent a letter to city officials that any proposed use of the disposal area other than non-irrigated pastureland would require review and approval by them.
According to City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, the city at the time, understood the area CalRecycle was referring to was west of city water tanks due to a recent article that had appeared in the Modesto Bee about the tanks being on a former dump site and not as a follow up from its Mitigated Negative Declaration.
Last May the City of Oakdale held a groundbreaking ceremony for the trail and began construction, however days later, CalRecycle came back to Oakdale and later issued a “cease and desist” order for the trail construction.
The order cited that the agency had not been involved in a course of protocols per regulations and questioned the safety of the former dumpsite.
Whitemyer said the city had provided previous studies finding no hazardous materials at the site to CalRecycle and also noted that there was a deadline associated with state grant funding for the trail and the potential loss of the funding “unless there is a swift action to direct the city as to how it may take necessary actions to proceed.”
“I’m flat-out shocked,” said Whitemyer. “I don’t know how they didn’t know about it.”
According to Whitemyer, Cal Recycle stated that it must meet internally with other state agencies, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, to determine who will have oversight of the project.
The city has been in negotiations with CalRecycle officials for the last two months providing additional information on the former dump and burn site which closed in 1964.
Throughout that time the city has been reminding CalRecycle of the timeline associated with the project and the potential loss of funding.
“We went out and did an inspection and found proper procedures weren’t followed,” said Heather Jones, information officer at CalRecycle. “We have to be involved in the process and verify on a closed landfill that the integrity of that final cover will not be compromised.”
Jones said the city began the project without notification and neglected to engage them in the process.
“We can’t speak to the specific timeline (of the project for the grant),” Jones said, “but we’re working with the city to be in conformance with established environmental regulations.”
“The city desires to comply with all required state regulations and make sure that the site is safe,” Whitemyer said in a letter to The Leader. “Based on the previous studies that the city has conducted over the last fifteen years it believes it has already demonstrated that the area designated for the river access trail is safe.”
Whitemyer also said that over the last fifteen years Oakdale has worked diligently with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Caltrans, Stanislaus County, and the California Department of Resources in an effort to build the trail.
“The city looks forward to working with CalRecycle to resolve its concerns so the residents of Oakdale can once again enjoy this wonderful trail,” Whitemyer said.