A picture of Eagle Rock Aggregates' facility at the Port of Long Beach. A similar facility could soon be built near West Oakland. (Credit: Eagle Rock Aggregates LLC)

Port of Oakland commissioners have approved a plan to construct an open-air rock and gravel storage facility at the port, despite objections from West Oakland environmental activists and the Bay Area air quality district.  

In a vote on Feb. 24, the port board approved a 12-year lease with Eagle Rock Aggregates to build a bulk marine terminal where sand, rock, and gravel will be stored and later trucked to a West Oakland cement plant. 

West Oakland residents and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have expressed deep concern about the facility. They worry dust from four-story-tall sand piles and diesel emissions from ships could blow into the air breathed by residents downwind from the site. 

The project is the latest concern for a community home to idling trucks, metal shredding, steel, and cement companies, and surrounded by freeways and the port. West Oakland residents suffer higher rates of respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and cancer compared to more affluent areas of the city. A lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the project’s environmental impact report, which the port board approved, is likely to be filed. 

“The port’s own analysis says they will increase particulate distribution in West Oakland. There will be dust,” Brian Beveridge, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, told The Oaklandside. 

Port officials have said the bulk marine terminal helps diversify port operations, which traditionally has focused on container cargo, and provides much-needed cement to the local building economy. Once constructed, the terminal is estimated to generate $4.7 million a year on average and $56.2 million through the initial term of the contract. The contract includes options to extend the lease up to 15 years for a maximum of 27 years. 

In turn, Eagle Rock agrees to invest $30 to $55 million to improve the 18-acre facility and three acres of water at berths 20-22. Ports America used the berths until ending operations in 2016. It is now used as a staging area for trucks and containers. 

Eagle Rock Aggregates has had a presence in the East Bay since 2007 but plans to shutter its facility at the privately owned Levin Terminal in Richmond and shift operations to Oakland. Its aggregates—building materials like sand and gravel—can be found in the Chase Center, the foundation of the Bay Bridge, and in downtown Oakland residential high-rise buildings. 

Sand and aggregate would be shipped here from a quarry on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and offloaded and stored at the Oakland port berths. From there, trucks would carry the material to a cement plant at Peralta Street and 24th Street. Other locations are available. Eagle Rock is a subsidiary of Polaris Materials and U.S. Concrete, a large supplier of ready-mixed concrete, with a large footprint in the greater Bay Area. 

Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes told commissioners that the plans include measures to mitigate any environmental harms. Eagle Rock will use an electrified conveyor system to offload aggregates and an electrified truck to haul the material to the West Oakland cement plant. Loads will be covered, Brandes said, and truck tires will be washed before leaving the site to rinse off dust particles.  

But unlike the Richmond facility, the sand and rock piles won’t be enclosed in a building. Constructing an enclosure was too costly and burdensome, port officials concluded. Instead, the material will simply be stored in the open air, and Eagle Rock plans to water down the material to keep it from blowing around. 

Beveridge, of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, said cost cannot be used as an excuse when it comes to potential environmental impacts. “You can’t say it costs too much to avoid it,” he said. “That’s their problem. If it costs too much to be in business then they shouldn’t be in business.” 

Other concerns surround the ships entering the Eagle Rock facility. About 85% of ships carrying containers to the port plug in to electrical power while docked, greatly reducing diesel emissions from idling ships. But there is no state law requiring bulk ships—the kind that will transport material to the new gravel facility—to plug in to renewable power, and the port isn’t requiring Eagle Rock to do so. 

The port will require that 25% of the ships used by Eagle Rock will have “Tier 2” engines with stricter emission standards than ships previously used, and that percentage will increase to 30 by year three of the lease. However, Bay Area Air Quality Management District Planning Director Henry Hilken urged the port to accelerate its plan and require a greater percentage as early as possible.

The air quality district, which is the Bay Area’s pollution control agency, sent letters expressing concern to the port board, along with the state Attorney General’s Office, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and U.S. Congressmember Barbara Lee. 

In 2019, the port worked with the WOEIP to prepare a community action plan to reduce emissions, Hilken said, and “as part of that plan we need to crack down and reduce air pollution. A project that increases pollution in the community is very concerning.” 

Ms. Margaret Gordon, co-founder of WOEIP and a former port commissioner, said approval of the bulk marine terminal is an about-face. “We are doing all these things to reduce emissions and the port is still in emissions,” Gordon told The Oaklandside. “Shame on the port board for not considering that this is about our health.”

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.