A group of West Oakland environmental justice advocates want their community to breathe easier and live longer, filing suit Friday against the Port of Oakland over a sand and gravel project approved by Port commissioners late last month.

The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project alleges in its petition and complaint in Alameda County Superior Court that the project will contribute to local air pollution, noise, carbon emissions and water pollution.

The advocates are seeking to stop the project, or if the Port moves forward with it, that the Port makes sure the environmental impacts are mitigated as the California Environmental Quality Act requires.

“This sand and gravel project would have severe negative impacts on the health of the people in my community,” said Margaret Gordon, co-founder of WOEIP and a former Port Commissioner herself.

“The Port of Oakland Commissioners appear to be completely ignoring the public health impacts that would be caused by the dust blowing off the open-air piles of gravel aggregate into our neighborhoods; the 50 added ship visits every year, all idling in port and burning one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet; and the 375 new daily truck trips along local West Oakland streets, all spewing diesel particulate matter directly into our air and our homes,” Gordon said.

The uncovered sand and gravel piles to be housed at the Port will be as high as 25 feet, each containing as much as 329,000 tons of material.

The project involves the company Eagle Rock Aggregates, a subsidiary of Polaris Materials Corporation, which is a subsidiary of U.S. Concrete. U.S. Concrete was purchased last year by Vulcan Materials Company, based in Birmingham, Alabama.

Eagle Rock Aggregates will be leasing 18 acres of Port land to bring 2.5 million tons of sand and gravel to the Bay Area each year. The material will be used to make concrete for construction projects such as housing.

The sand and gravel will be housed at the Port with no covering. Port officials have said it will be kept moist. Piles will be as high as 25 feet, each containing as much as 329,000 tons of material, according to the complaint.

“Looking beyond today’s legal action, we welcome collaboration with Port Commissioners and staff who are willing to work with us under the Community Health Protection Program,” Gordon said. “Our common goal can be to reduce emissions at the Port, for example by switching to zero-emission electric trucks and equipment.”

According to the complaint, West Oakland has traditionally been a Black community and today is predominantly a low-income community of color. Fifty-two percent of the residents live below the federal poverty level and 76 percent are people of color.

It alleges that West Oakland’s asthma rate is among the highest in the U.S. About 25 percent of students at West Oakland Middle School had asthma and breathing problems in 2018, the complaint says. Emergency room visits and hospitalizations for children under 5 in the neighborhood were 76 percent higher than the Alameda County average in 2016, according to the complaint.

That same year, West Oakland residents were expected to live 7.5 fewer years than other Alameda County residents, the complaint says.

“The Port’s actions are those of a bad neighbor,” Gordon said. “The people of West Oakland should not have to go to court to protect their health.

“It’s a serious challenge to the Port’s authority,” said Brian Beveridge, co-founder of WOEIP, in a statement. “And we don’t take it lightly. But, in casually certifying this deeply flawed environmental review, the Port Commission has abandoned its obligation to protect our public interests in the shoreline and our air.”

Port officials declined to comment, citing the active litigation. A spokesperson for U.S. Concrete did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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.