Deal Or No Deal?

If you are worried about the dioxins out on the mill site, you should be.

Mayor Lindy Peters has conceded that neither he nor the City Council had the time or got paid enough to be able to keep up with all the meetings that the administration seemed to be having regarding what to do about the toxics at the mill site.

Marie Jones, Development Director, seems puzzled that after all these years everybody is now asking her for information when the finish line is so clearly in sight.

Since the crucial meetings that are mapping our toxic fate have been conducted, as the Mayor has plainly said, it was difficult for shocked citizens at the mayor’s informal meeting last week to readily credit the strong assertion that these agencies and our own administrators are making arrangements, agreements and understandings with GP that will determine the fate of the mill and leave all existing contaminants on the site.

In perpetuity.

Outgoing City Manager Linda Ruffing noted the pivotal decision-making meeting in City Notes but did not discuss the content of the deal. The three or four civic minded folk at the meeting with the mayor were content to bask in the warmth of considerable mayoral charisma; they just could not believe that our seaside toxic legacy had been confirmed.

Later in the day, when the meeting summary itself was presented, the terrible done deal was still disbelieved.

The people of the City of Fort Bragg have been waiting for the mill site FS (Feasibility Study), a final edict from the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control. People thought naively the feasibility study would open the discussion.

In fact, the terms of the feasibility study are being worked out now in interagency conference, and we are already screwed.

When they present the Feasibility Study to you, they won’t be asking for your opinion. They’ll be telling you, Fort Bragg, what the done deal is.

The mere suggestion that a decision has been made that precludes other options was hugely disturbing to the mayor and the four citizens who had come to his weekly meet and greet. The secrecy had been so total, the silence of our city administrators that went to the meeting so complete, and the significance to the City so shocking that outrage, disbelief and stumbling disassociation from the facts melted down productive conversation.

As the meeting participants puzzled and wondered in incredulous defensive annoyance, Marie Jones was fetched from her work at the permit counter to sort out the confusion. Just what had actually happened that day in far away Santa Rosa, Ms. Jones?

Our Development Director had attended with City Manager Linda Ruffing.

“Ha ha ha,” Ms. Jones mirthlessly chuckled. A Deal? No way. Absolutely no deal had been made. We have lots of meetings, in fact, we have them all the time. This meeting and the one subsequently in January were but two meetings among many. Why for heaven’s sake would we necessarily have to tell the City Council? Why inform the mayor?

No deal has been made, she said.

The first of two significant meetings was held November 30, 2017 at the regional headquarters of RWQCB (Regional Water Quality Control Board) in Santa Rosa.

The other more recent meeting was in January at the Department of Toxic Substances Control. In spite of many promises to release the summary of the most recent meeting, the City has not yet done so.

At the November Water Quality meeting were representatives from Department of Toxic Substances Control,  Glen Young our own Fort Bragg toxic cleanup consultant, Linda Ruffing and Marie Jones from Fort Bragg City Hall. The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the Coastal Commission (CC), the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), and the Department of Safety of Damns (DOSOD) — all the agencies that could possibly shoot down or at a Feasibility Study had gathered to put their heads together and make some sausage.

The meeting rolled right over the Fort Bragg City Council resolution demanding full cleanup of the mill site.

Fort Bragg, like an unloved stepchild, was ignored as the Agencies got down to business.

Georgia-Pacific, aka the Koch Brothers (in absentia) was disabused of their own idea of making the area below the dam a danger area. G-P might be trying but they were not going to wiggle out of agency jurisdiction, DOSOD (Department of Safety of Dams) bespoke. California Law assuring public access to our own beaches, intercepted the simple GP idea that we just fence off the beach. And, No, GP would not be allowed to lower the water level in the wetlands to make the dam irrelevant. Instead GP was being commanded to fix the dam and also install a barrier across Pond 8 to further sequester toxins from possible leakage onto the beach.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control took the initiative: "If contaminants are left in place in mill pond, DTSC would consider dam to be a containment structure for contamination and long-term Operations and Maintenance (O&M) would be overseen by DTSC."

In one fell stroke the carcinogenic dioxins in the mill ponds were converted into an asset. They might be toxic but they would get us a brand new dam from GP. That solved everything. GP repairs the dam, the dioxins stay, and the fences go around it. The ponds shall be restored, but not cleansed of their poisons.

The Coastal Commission representative remarked somewhat tardily that remediation is not allowed at all in wetlands anyway, only restoration.

Who knew?

This is all low risk, the agency people assured each other and anyway it will all be fenced off. The issue with the warning signs is a tricky one, apparently signs will not be required at Pond 8 but will be required everywhere else. Everything gets fenced. George Reinhardt’s beloved vision of day-lighting the creeks died right then, although George does not know it (far as I know). Poor guy.

According to GP the dioxins are concentrated more heavily in the proposed day-lighting area than the worst of the ponds. They will have to be fenced. GP is calling the shots.

Just imagine, I called that a deal. Whatever was I thinking? The mayor is strenuously trying to tell me that a deal is something that is on paper, it’s a contract, not a bargaining session no one knew about. I don't know if the deal will stand. Do the people or the Council have notice of what is intended for us? Will there be opportunity for resistance and defiance? Yes, there will. But I don’t see the City Council taking the lead, or even following developments.

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