Humboldt Dump closer to resolution

During a four-hour meeting this week the Chico City Council took a few tentative steps toward resolving the long-festering problem of cleaning up the property and slough contaminated by decades of dumping and burning on the old Humboldt Dump in southeast Chico.

The city is being squeezed by pressure from the state to abate the estimated 150,000 cubic yards of lead-contaminated soil, property owners with development plans and a coalition of environmentalists and neighbors who fear clouds of poison dust blowing off the site to nearby Marsh Junior High School, and residential neighborhoods including California Park.

And then there are those who don’t want to see development on the property and view the cleanup, if paid for in part by the city, as a taxpayer subsidy to the developers.

This week the council asked city staff to prepare an outline that would approach the matter in a series of steps and allow for public input.

At issue are two alternatives, one developed over years by the city and its consultant to consolidate and cap the contaminated soil; the other suggested by a citizen’s committee to clean Dead Horse Slough and monitor the rest of the property to see if the contaminants leach off-site.

City Manager Tom Lando told the packed council chambers that there would be no final action this night and that there will be one more public meeting, the date of which will be set Sept. 2.

Staff’s primary goal, Lando said, is to comply with the state orders by the June 2004 deadline and achieve some community consensus, which is proving more easily said than done.

The plan suggested by the citizen’s committee, called the Majority Plan, was evaluated by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (which is overseeing and must approve the cleanup) but rejected because it does not meet state requirements. The members who favor the state-supported, $8 million plan are two Humboldt property owners and the owner of a construction company that could be used in the cleanup project.

Susan Minasian, the chairperson of the citizen’s committee, told the council the state agencies were presenting them “a conclusion that is driving an analyst, not an analyst driving a conclusion.”

“You asked the citizens’ committee for a fair study. But we were cut short by the state, a breach of trust that you must not ignore,” she said. “The [agencies'] preferred plan is neither legally required nor safe.”

Steve DiZio of the Department of Toxic Substance Control, said there will not be enough lead-laden dust stirred up during the consolidation process to endanger the neighbors. “The dose,” he said, “makes the poison.”

Speaking for the so-called agency-preferred plan, committee member René Vercruyssen, president of Baldwin Construction, said the health risk assessment makes it clear that cleanup operations will be safe for all affected parties.

But California Park resident Tim Donahue criticized Baldwin for work it has done in the nearby Husa Ranch development, complaining there was “dust everywhere” and the agency that monitored the work, the county’s Air Quality Control Board failed to do its job. He feared, he said, that would happen again at Humboldt.

Barbara Morris said her son goes to Hank Marsh Junior High and that there is indeed a lead threat.

“Low levels are dangerous,” she said. “I implore you not to poison my child.”

Phil Woodward of the water board said the state would be willing to go along with a step-by-step process as suggested by Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan, but warned that if the city stops short of meeting state requirements, the two could end up in court.