Attorney General Rob Bonta has joined a lawsuit filed by West Oakland activists to prevent construction of an open-air gravel and sand facility at the Port of Oakland.
The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, which filed the lawsuit in March, is seeking an injunction to halt the Eagle Rock Aggregates project until the port completes a more thorough environmental study. A month earlier, the Port of Oakland approved the project, allowing Eagle Rock to lease land on the Outer Harbor.
WOEIP is concerned that dust from rock and sand piles as high as four stories could blow into West Oakland neighborhoods, worsening air quality and already high rates of asthma and other illnesses linked to the nearby port.
Bonta, in a press statement issued Thursday, said his office was joining WOEIP’s lawsuit and seconded the group’s concerns. He said the Port of Oakland approved the facility without adequately considering alternatives to cover or enclose the sand stockpiles, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA requires government agencies to sufficiently study alternatives and mitigation measures to lessen environmental impacts of projects.
Port officials also failed to “meaningfully analyze the project’s inconsistency with the goals and targets” of the West Oakland Action Plan. The effort is the first of its kind in the state and followed passage of AB 617, a state law that requires local air districts and the state Air Resources Board to reduce air pollution in impacted communities. West Oakland was among the first in the state designated as an impacted community.
“The West Oakland community already suffers from some of the highest pollution levels in the state. The Eagle Rock Aggregate Terminal will only add to their pollution burden, resulting in shorter life spans, more trips to the emergency room, and chronic illness,” said Bonta, who formerly represented Oakland in the state assembly.
The Port of Oakland is aware of the state’s planned intervention in the Eagle Rock project. “We welcome further discussions with the California State Attorney General’s office on this topic,” spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur told The Oaklandside.
An Eagle Rock representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Sand and aggregate would be shipped to Oakland from a quarry in British Columbia. As much as 2.5 million tons of sand and gravel would be stored each year, offloaded from roughly 48 ships visiting the port. Approximately 70,000 truck trips per year would carry the material through West Oakland and on freeways to regional cement plants, including one at Peralta and 24th streets.
Eagle Rock has had a presence in the East Bay since 2007 at the privately-owned Levin Terminal in Richmond but plans to shutter that facility and shift operations to Oakland. Its materials can be found in the foundation of the Bay Bridge, Chase Center, and in downtown Oakland high rises.
Port officials have said bringing in a bulk marine terminal helps diversify port operations, which traditionally has focused on container cargo. The 18-acre terminal is estimated to generate $4.7 million a year on average and up to $56.2 million through the initiative term of the contract, 12 years. Another bulk terminal, one that would ship coal through Oakland, has been mired in a legal battle for over seven years now, also because of the potential pollution it could cause. And in East Oakland, Bonta filed a lawsuit earlier this year accusing AB&I Foundry of violating state law by not warning neighbors of the cast iron pipe manufacturer that it was spewing a toxic chemical into the air.
Brian Beveridge, the co-founder of WOEIP, said his organization was encouraged by the Attorney General’s decision.
“It validates our belief that the environmental review for the gravel terminal was poorly done and that this project could cause significant harm to our community,” Beveridge said.
The project’s environmental impact report and comments from various community groups and other public agencies can be viewed here.
The state Department of Justice’s Bureau of Environment Justice, which is under Bonta, the Bay Area’s air quality district, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission had sent letters expressing concern over the Eagle Rock project prior to the port Board of Commissioners’ approval in February.
“My office has repeatedly voiced its concerns with this project to the Port,” Bonta said in the statement. “Today, we are intervening in this case to advocate for the mitigation and analysis this community deserves, and we are hopeful that the Port will demonstrate its shared commitment to projecting the health and wellbeing of West Oakland residents.”