Humboldt Dump RAP show

Cleanup of the lead-laden Humboldt Road Burn Dump seems to be entirely in the hands of the state.

A legally required meeting to gather public input on draft remedial-action plans, or RAPs, held June 9 at Little Chico Creek Elementary School, appeared to provide as much frustration as answers for many of the approximately 35 people who attended.

Representatives from the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), assisted by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), outlined three separate RAPs at the meeting. (The city is lead agency on its portion of the cleanup and must develop its own RAP to submit to the water board.)

The RWQCB divided 15 parcels into three “operable units.” Water board staff has recommended excavating the contaminated soil and capping it on-site in one cell, except in the case of the Pleasant Valley Assembly of God Operable Unit, where the soil could be excavated to the nearby cell to be used as ground cover or disposed of elsewhere.

Last month the Chico City Council voted in favor of the single-cell repository and forwarded that recommendation to the state.

James Pedri, assistant executive officer for the RWQCB, said that while board staffers have found their favorite alternative in No. 3—the City Council’s choice—"by no means have we made a final determination.” That said, Pedri added that the decision lies in the hands of the board’s executive director—the staffer who made the original recommendation. If citizens don’t like the decision, he said, they can appeal to the statewide version of the water board.

“We will pick the final alternative based on your comments, based on the laws that we have,” Pedri said.

Several speakers, citing concerns about lead that could be stirred up by the earth-moving process, testified that they’d prefer another approach to cleaning up the site—two cells—or simply leaving it alone and forbidding future development there.

“If you left it alone, it would be quite all right,” Alan Gair said. “[That would be] the simplest, cheapest solution to this problem.”

Another speaker, Teresa Stall, vowed to have her daughters checked for lead before, during and after the project.

Other speakers were anxious to see another element of the project: the design of the actual cleanup. Pedri said that will be discussed at a separate public hearing for the construction permit, scheduled for July 9 as part of a regional board meeting. It’s being held in Rancho Cordova, he said, because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has restricted travel budgets for state employees. “We have no option” to move the meeting site, Pedri said.

The dump, located near Highway 32 and Humboldt Road, came about during the first half of the 20th century, as the city, county used the land to dispose of all kinds of waste until its final closure in 1965. There were also a number of private dumps operating in the same area in the 1940s and ‘50s.

In 1988, the water board issued a cleanup-and-abatement order for one parcel and in June 2003 added an order for 15 parcels, saying that hazardous substances, primarily lead, threaten to expose humans to dangers—even though they’ve seemingly stayed in place for more than half a century.

Some residents fear the state is forcing the cleanup out of some kind of allegiance to the speculative developers who bought portions of the land hoping to turn it into residential or commercial lots.

That’s not the case, Pedri said. “We are not here to make any judgments on what’s going to happen on this property once the project is done,” he said. “Our job is to clean up hazardous waste.”

Comments are due June 28 and may be sent to the water board’s Redding office or