Dump opera

Builder and landowner Tom Fogarty wants a little help paying for the cleanup of his 340 acres in the area of southeast Chico collectively known for the past 15 years or so as the Humboldt Road Burn Dump (HRBD) property. For 60 years the county- and then city-operated burn dump was located here. Local refuse was dumped, burned and buried. But as many as nine privately operated dumps were also in the area helping foul the soil. Last year the city finally came to a cleanup solution whereby it would pay for only the acres it had tainted. Private landowners who could document that the city had contaminated their land would get financial help. None came forward until just a few weeks ago, when Fogarty sent a letter to the city.

“I think the city knows that material didn’t just show up on my land,” Fogarty said in a phone interview this week. He said his partner, the late Ildo Rosellini, had purchased the land in 1964, which is about the time the dump ceased operations. Fogarty said that in 1993 he looked to buy into the property and said he was told then that the city would clean it up within 12 to 18 months. Based on that information, the residential zoning and the presence of a sewer line, he went ahead and bought a 50-percent interest in the 340 acres, where he hopes to build 1,324 condos, houses and apartments. Now he says, about 80 percent of his land is clean, with the toxic dirt buried in a cell and capped. “It wasn’t as bad as people thought,” he said. “We were able to control the dust. I spent a quarter-million monitoring the dust.” He says he wants the city to kick in $5 million because it is responsible for the toxic material there. No private dump ever operated on his land, he said. He argues that since the state is making the city clean up the land, and the land will be worth more in tax revenue to the city once developed, the city should kick down some change. This, he said, is a perfect use of redevelopment funding, where blighted land is improved and the city gets to keep the increased property tax revenue.

Fogarty’s letter says “it is well-documented how this HRBD [toxic] material was originally deposited on our land. For example, when City/County employees of the dump were trying to end their day or put out their fires, they would spread the burning material off of dump property and onto our private lands. In addition, when the city installed the sewer system, contaminated materials from that installation were unfortunately deposited on our land.” Chico City Manager Tom Lando questions Fogarty’s theories as to how his property became contaminated. “There was about a year when the dump burned and the material was spread around in attempts to put it out.” Lando said. He doubts the toxic material was spread onto Fogarty’s property and noted that the county was running the dump at that time. As for toxic soil being spread by the installation of the sewer line, Lando said that it didn’t contaminate Fogarty’s property; it contaminated the Dunn property, which the city eventually purchased. What’s more, smack dab in the middle of the Fogarty property is the contaminated Johnson property, whose owner, according to court testimony, lays the blame for its pollution on Rosellini. Still, Fogarty says the city has, if not a legal responsibility, at least a moral responsibility to help him and the other private property owners clean up the land. And Lando says, though he doubts the present City Council will abide, he would recommend the city spend some money helping clean the private property, as well. “This is not the direction the council is headed,” he said, “and I don’t mind being told I was wrong.” Fogarty’s development plans, the Oak Valley project, were set to go before the Planning Commission Jan. 20. Fogarty said he’s withdrawn that matter from the commission’s agenda for now while he tries to gather more information.