Port of Oakland commissioners took no action on a proposed project that some residents of West Oakland say will burden them with more pollution.

Eagle Rock Aggregates is seeking about 18 acres of land at the Port of Oakland for a place to bring sand and gravel that will be used for making concrete. Ships will bring the material to land at Berth 22.

West Oakland residents said they are willing to sue over the project.

Following the inaction by the commissioners during their Jan. 27 meeting, a lawyer for the residents said they are cautiously optimistic.

“We are pleased that the Port is taking more time,” said Laura Beaton, a partner with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger in San Francisco.

Beaton is representing the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, a group led by residents aiming for healthy homes, jobs, and neighborhoods.

“We don’t have insight into what they’re thinking,” Beaton said. “But we’re hopeful they’ll take this opportunity to work with the community to come up with a project that’s better for West Oakland.”

Commissioners did listen to comments from the public, Beaton said.

But Port of Oakland spokesperson Robert Bernardo said commissioners took no action because Eagle Rock Aggregates needs more time to put the final touches on a labor agreement for a full union workforce for the project.

Berth 22 at the Port of Oakland, the site Eagle Rock Aggregates intends to use as a bulk gravel terminal, is currently used as a staging area for container cargo traffic. Some trucking company operators are concerned losing the space would contribute to supply chain bottlenecks. (Google image)

This is not the first time residents have expressed concern over environmental issues in West Oakland, which historically has been exposed to some of the worst air quality in the nation, Beaton said last week, noting that the neighborhood is nearest to the Port and surrounded by freeways.

“This open-air terminal is going to add to the air pollution burden in West Oakland and impact the health of the people in the community,” Beaton said.

The concerns of residents center around pollution from dust that will be created as well as pollution from idling ships and trucks using the area.

At a terminal in Richmond, the rock and gravel are stored in a building, Beaton said. She said Port officials have said that’s not feasible in Oakland.

Residents also want to know what the Port plans to do on days when air quality is particularly bad.

Airing concerns

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District weighed in about the Port’s proposal, saying it “is concerned with the significant and unavoidable NOx and PM impacts and recommends the project more fully address Air District comments on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report.”

NOx is nitrogen oxide, which will be produced by ships and offsite trucks. PM is particulate matter, which will be created by ships, trucks, offroad equipment and stockpiles of rock and gravel.

Port officials refused to say what measures they will be taking to minimize the dust at the project site. Instead, the Port issued a statement.

“The proposed project has several environmental-related features that exceed current regulatory requirements including electric trucks for delivery of construction materials, measures to minimize dust from the project site, and an aggressive strategy to reduce vessel emissions,” the statement said.

Port officials also refused to elaborate on their “strategy to reduce vessel emissions.”

But they touted the project benefits saying, “The proposed project would supply much-needed construction materials to the Bay Area, which will be used for many local construction projects that support housing, the economy, and jobs.”

West Oakland is an AB 617 community, said Margaret Gordon, co-director of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, a group led by residents aiming for healthy homes, jobs, and neighborhoods.

An AB 617 community is a community in California most impacted by air pollution and subject to the Community Air Protection Program, which aims to reduce residents’ exposure. AB 617 refers to Assembly Bill 617, a law established in 2017, prompting the California Air Resources Board to create the Community Air Protection Program.

Keven Wasylyshyn, vice president of commercial operations for Eagle Rock Aggregates, did not say how his company will protect the West Oakland community from particulate matter created by the project.

He provided a statement saying, “Eagle Rock Aggregates has been working diligently with the Port of Oakland to develop a project that is consistent with the State of California’s goals for reducing overall environmental impacts while also supporting the regional need for increased housing and supporting high-paying long-term local labor jobs.”

The Jan. 27 meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners can be viewed online.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.