Critics continue to air objections to a plan approved by elected officials in June to develop a $42 million village entrance park and parking structure long sought for downtown.
At last week’s City Council meeting, among eight people raising an array of concerns, resident Alan Boinus voiced his about potential contaminants in the soil at the site that could spread if disrupted by construction or a natural disaster.
Audrey Prosser worried over the significance of groundwater found at 13.5 to 23 feet beneath the surface and pushed to have maps of the area’s streams produced. Others decried ongoing operation and maintenance costs, wondered about the structure’s financial self-sufficiency, asked for a citywide vote, or questioned the project’s usefulness in mitigating circulation problems.
City records from a decade ago as well as the current environmental impact report on the project echo some of the cautions raised by Boinus and generally describe sources of pollutants that potentially could require a costly environmental cleanup on the site.
In his comments, Boinus questioned why the current City Council would approve the entrance project at a location where evidence of soil contamination had led a previous council to abandon expansion of a flood control channel over a decade ago. In this assessment, he said he relied partly on information provided by Roger Butow, an environmental consultant. In a letter last week, Butow referred to “high concentrations of petrochemical contaminants in the aquifer up near City Hall” due to past uses, such as a two-pump gas station and garbage dump at the site back in the 1930s. He questioned the level of regulatory oversight and cleanup of the soil, or lack thereof, in the past. Butow obtained a historic photo of a gas station near the site but on Laguna Canyon Road. According to 95-year old Doc Blacketer, a teenager in Laguna in the 1930s, a common dump situated behind the station was used for decades prior to the construction of the original flood control channel.
Boinus also echoed Prosser’s concern about the high water table, which he said could be a factor contributing to liquefaction during an earthquake, which could increase the spread of any contaminants.
Records show the City Council in 2002 did initially authorize a joint flood control project with the county and later reversed its decision, in part due to fears over opening an environmental Pandora’s box. Studies for that project — to combat downtown flooding by constructing a wider channel along Broadway Street from the bus depot to the ocean — did reveal contaminated soil and water, but at Main Beach, as well as along Broadway, caused by gas stations.
The village entrance site next to City Hall did come under scrutiny at the time when engineers considered options for relocating a sewer line along Broadway, so as to make room for the new flood channel, according to meeting minutes. In a 2002 design study, Long Beach’s Moffat & Nichol outlined alternatives that included an option to improve the sewer lift station located in the city yard. Among the disadvantages to that option they noted a “high risk due to construction depth and lack of geotechnical data.”
Instead of settling on where to relocate the sewer before undertaking construction of the flood channel, the City Council voted to cancel the entire project at their June 18, 2002, meeting. Meeting minutes indicate that they made the decision due to the costs, environmental uncertainties of both the sewer relocation and the removal of the contaminated soil at Broadway and Coast Highway for the channel construction, and the disruption to downtown business for the duration of the project.
The environmental impact report for the current village entrance park and parking structure also points out potentially contaminated soils at the site. The report notes that historic uses, such as propane tanks, a gasoline pump and engine tune ups, among others, “demonstrate that potentially hazardous materials have been stored and used on-site.” Despite no indication of significant spills or leaks, it acknowledges that past contamination isn’t fully known and that “the impacts related to the exposure of contaminants to construction workers, City Hall, nearby businesses and residents during soil grading and excavation activities is potentially significant.”
Consequently, the report calls for an environmental assessment and remediation recommendations before demolition or grading begins.
The city intends to hire a qualified expert to examine the soil for hazardous residue in the next few months, said John Montgomery, the city’s community development director. “Appropriate remediation will take place” if any such materials are discovered, he said.
Typically geological analysis on a large construction project is an iterative process, Montgomery said. Once builders know exactly where the structure’s caissons are planned to go, they will do borings at that site, he said. And the geologist remains on board during construction, to do an analysis after the grading, for example, as well as at the completion of the construction, he said.
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