College Of Marin Busted For Athletic Field
By Elena Belsky
It was a sweetheart of a deal: College of Marin provides the acreage, and Branson School in Kentfield provides the $3 million to renovate and maintain the athletic fields with rights for Branson School use. So, what went wrong?
Late last summer, residents living on Corte Madera Creek noticed an athletic field being renovated on College of Marin property. They were appalled to see an area in the south marsh being in-filled with dirt. This work consisted of grading dirt to the edge of Corte Madera Creek, placement of construction material and debris into the adjacent wetlands and slough, and installation of four large drainage pipes, for the irrigation system, which discharged directly into the creek and surrounding wetlands.
Concerned residents immediately formed the Coalition for Corte Madera Creek, which include representatives from the Audubon Society and Friends of Corte Madera Creek. Upon further investigation, it was determined that the nearly completed work on Mackey Field had been performed without permits from the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) for streambed alteration and wetlands fill and from the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) for wetlands fill and waste discharge.
Nor was a consultation requested of the State Department of Fish and Game or National Marine Fisheries Service, to determine the potential impact on listed endangered species, which include protected habitat for coho salmon and steelhead trout.
Only after a site inspection was conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, at the prompting of Coalition members, were proper applications filed by the College of Marin and Branson School's agent/architect Peter Arnold. Construction continued on through the Fall, with turf being laid and chemicals applied throughout the Winter.
In March of 2002, the RWQCB enforcement officer, Farhad Ghodrati, issued a Notice of Violation which included a list of demands for alterations and mitigations. Violations under the Federal Clean Water Act and California Water Code laws were noted as follows: "The College of Marin (Discharger) violated State and Federal water codes, by placing fill materials within jurisdictional water, in the absence of Waste Discharge Requirements and Section 401 water quality certification." The RWQCB Notice of Violation cited the exact same problems that Coalition members had initially noticed.
Also of major concern to environmental and public health advocates, as well as the RWQCB, is the discharge of chemical contaminants from Mackey Field into the Corte Madera Creek and marsh. "Information that you provided to the Regional Board on January 18, 2002, indicates that this leachate tests positive for nitrogen fertilizers (i.e. nitrate, ammonia), and may in the future also contain other nutrients (phosphorus, etc.), pesticides, herbicides, and other turf grass maintenance-related pollutants."
Members of the Coalition had previously collected numerous labels from the Mackey Field construction site documenting the different chemical compounds in use, with clearly stated warnings: "This pesticide is toxic to fish. Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark." The field irrigation system is designed to quickly drain water (and hence, chemicals used) away from the turf; the outfall pipes discharge directly into the creek and marsh.
Bob Thompson, Director of Maintenance and Operations for College of Marin told the Coastal Post that, "All arrangements were handled by Branson, College of Marin is just the property owner. The fields are wonderful, but don't have permits, we will take all actions they (RWQCB) require."
On April 11th, 2002, Branson School and College of Marin's agent/architect, Peter Arnold of Abby/Arnold Associates, submitted a response to the RWQCB's Notice of Violation, acquiescing to all demands. According to press officer Wil Bruhns of the Regional Board, staff has not yet formally responded to the letter, but are satisfied with the plans and mitigations proposed, and if properly implemented, believe the problems should be corrected. Purportedly, discharge pipes will be rerouted into large drainage swales, which will also treat the parking lot runoff; wetlands infill will be removed; fences will be erected to delineate and protect the marsh from Mackey Field; and a water quality monitoring program will be instituted to test the waste water.
Concerns are still being raised, however, over the four illegal discharge pipes into Corte Madera Creek and wetlands. The RWQCB has told local residents that it is not comfortable requiring the pipes to be removed, and will be left in place, and only capped. (Only four hours before, in response to a direct Coastal Post question, Mr. Ghodrati, through the RWQCB's press officer, gave conflicting information, stating that the pipes would be removed.)
The Coalition for Corte Madera Creek has objected to this capping-only plan, as it is not a long-term solution, asserting that, "Since personnel changes, and memories fade, the outlets could be opened, not necessarily in defiance of regulatory requirements, but out of ignorance of the history of the situation. Complete removal is necessary to protect the health of the creek, now and for the future."
For all those who feel that NIMBYs don't have a place in the scheme of things, take a lesson from the alert citizens living on Corte Madera Creek. If they had not been paying attention to their surroundings, and acted on their protective instincts for the beautiful and unique area in which they live, Mackey Field would have caused environmental damage for many years to come. The Coalition for Corte Madera Creek has been successful in networking the environmental groups, lobbying the Army Corps of Engineers (who are notorious for inaction) and the Regional Board, getting mitigations and corrections for the technical problems, and perhaps even educating the educators in environmental protection. If not active in your own back yard, then whose?
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