Albion Monitor /News

SF Bay Enviro Groups Threaten Navy Suit

Navy one of the largest polluters of the San Francisco Bay

Lawyers for a coalition of environmental groups filed formal notice July 3 that they intend to sue the Navy unless dramatic efforts are implemented to clean up pollution at Point Molate in Richmond.

"Out of respect for the upcoming Independence Day celebration, we are hereby declaring these truths to be self evident -- that all polluters are created equally," said Mike Lozeau of San Francisco BayKeeper, one of the groups threatening suit.

"Unlike its civilian counterparts, the Navy has never been assessed a penalty, despite being one of the largest polluters of the San Francisco Bay. The Pentagon says it wants to be treated the same as private industry with respect to compliance with environmental laws, and so do we. We want the Navy to be heavily penalized for the environmental deterioration at Point Molate."

The warning letter details decades of "wanton environmental abuse" and gives the Navy 60 days to take the legally required actions for cleanup. The groups claim that according to the Navy's own reports, the 300-acre facility sits atop a soup of bunker fuel, jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel fuel created by a 24-mile maze of leaking pipelines and underground storage tanks.

"It's as if the soil is floating on oil"

Located on the shore of the bay just north of the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge, the Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot is awash in leaking oil and chemicals, the groups charge. Besides San Francisco BayKeeper, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and Arc Ecology also are demanding cleanup.

"Anyone can be a 'Beverly Hillbilly' at Point Molate," sniped Saul Bloom of Arc Ecology. "Look anywhere on this base and you'll find there'smolateome places up to five feet of fuel floats on the groundwater. At times it bubbles up like springs. It's as if the soil is floating on oil."

Point Molate is the third closing base in the San Francisco Bay Area to face an enforcement action by the Campaign Against Military Pollution (CAMP), a joint project of BayKeeper and Arc Ecology. CAMP is currently suing the Navy for environmental problems at Treasure Island and the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

The groups charge that the Navy has disregarded the consequences of its environmental management at Point Molate. "I have never seen so dramatic a record of irresponsibility and arrogance in the handling hazardous and toxic materials," said Hank Bates of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

"The Navy has been repeatedly asked and ordered to clean up its mess, and the Navy has steadfastly ignored it all. According to evidence gathered by CAMP, the Navy has committed nearly a quarter-million violations of the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the California Hazardous Waste Control Act. Fines against the Navy could top half a billion dollars."

As with other sites, the Navy has claimed that no money is available to pay those fines, nor promptly begin cleanup. "In December 1995, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the Navy to begin a prompt cleanup of the fuel depot. The Navy, however, has announced that it has no funding to comply with the order," said Anne Simon of the Berkeley-based Environmental Law Community Clinic, representing San Francisco BayKeeper, Arc Ecology, and two local anglers.

"The Navy's failure to provide funding from its huge budget is unacceptable. The Water Board is concerned that the Navy's refusal to provide funds will result in a 10 to 15 year delay in cleanup. If the Navy is unwilling to find the money to clean up after itself we will file suit to compel it to do so."

Other SF Bay protection actions

CAMP is also active in cleanup issues at Alameda Naval Air Station and Mare Island, and the coalition has vowed to investigate and respond to every violation they can uncover at every military installation in the Bay Area.

In mid-June, CAMP reached a landmark agreement with a local shipyard to fund community involvement in military base cleanup and coversion. Astoria Metal Corporation, the ship scrapping and repair company leasing a huge portion of the Hunters Point Shipyard, announced the successful conclusion of a consent decree filed in federal court. Under terms of the agreement, Astoria will help fund a citizens group and a new non-profit organization.

Also in mid-June, San Francisco BayKeeper and a citizens group sued Cargill Salt, operator of the salt extraction plant in South San Francisco Bay. At the heart of this dispute is the company's waste disposal pile, which the environmentalists claim is polluted with high levels of mercury, copper, nickel, cadmium, and possible other contaminants. This waste pile is within the boundaries of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

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Albion Monitor July 7, 1996 (

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