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April, 2003

Regional Board Joins Army Cover Up At Hamilton
By Elena Belsky

This article was to be Part II of Chronic Problems At Hamilton, and praise for the Regional Water Quality Control Board's (RWQCB) continued public accessibility and monitoring of the Army; but it has turned into a story of contagion. The RWQCB has suddenly caught, or contracted, the Army's systematic refusal to make public documents readily available to members of the public for review - in a confounding turn of events, the Regional Board has abruptly withdrawn their offer of public access to requested public documents.

We know from February's Coastal Post article "Chronic Problems at Hamilton" that the State regulators took the Army to task for failing to accurately identify toxic soil that was then improperly transferred to a municipal dump dump-site. The Army violated State and Federal and environmental protection laws - multiple incidents occurred, as well as inconsistent and faulty categorization processes for chemical contaminants of concern.. The Army failed to properly clean up the hazardous materials. Unfortunately, thousands of tons of potentially toxic soil went to municipal landfills, who then re-use the soil, offering it to homeowners for garden and residential use; homeowners who thereby unknowingly re-distributing possibly hazardous materials into the public domain.

The source of information, the Army's Building 41 draft Construction Report, has been discussed publicly during an open meeting of the Army's Restoration Advisory Board (RAB). At that same meeting, the Army presented a newsletter with data and information from that Construction Report. Yet the Army refused the public access to view the Report to confirm the data.

Naomi Feger of the Regional Board WQCB recognized this discrepancy at the RAB meeting and offered access to the Report and also to a formal Regional Board RWQCB letter to the Army commenting on the report, for public viewing at the Oakland RWQCB office.

When contacted a few weeks later, to arrange a time to view the documents in question, Ms. Feger responded by leaving the following phone message in return: "Subsequent to my last offer, the Army has raised some issues about releasing draft documents. They feel they have an exemption under FOIA. Water Board has determined that knowing it is a federal process that we should wait for the Army to resolve the regulators comments and the draft to go final. As it stands now, it will not be released to the public until its final. I guess you can go back to the Army for reconsideration."

Shortly after Ms. Feger's withdrawal of the RWQCB's offer, her supervisor, John Kaiser, the Department of Defense Program Manager for the RWQCB sent the following email: "Our management has recently informed us that due to our agency being a party to an agreement with the Federal Government on this site that we are obligated to abide by their rules as to the release of draft documents pursuant to their criteria under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA]. I have also been told that the same is being applied by our sister agency, the Department of Toxic Substances Control [DTSC]. In short, we have to wait until the Fed officially releases the information. We are regretful of any frustration and inconvenience this has been causing."

Why does the Army suddenly have the power to suppress the State Regulator's comments and to force them to abrogate California's Public Records Act? Where is this "contract" with the RWQCB? When was this contract signed? Will the RWQCB provide access, does the DTSC really share the Regional Board's views?

What undue pressure has caused the RWQCB to give in to a Federal Agency, in a matter legally under State jurisdiction? This is a disturbing series of events as it is becoming more clear as to who is really running the "clean up" and oversight of Hamilton military properties.

It seems odd that the Army provides draft documents when it suits their purposes, as in negotiations with Friends of Novato Creek over the Foley Landfill sampling plan, but when it does not, the Army forces the RWQCB to shut down public records.

In light of obvious recent violations of toxic disposal and environmental protection laws, and failure to properly clean up hazardous materials by the Army, it seems a little late to attempt a cover up of such magnitude, and more than foolish for the Regional Board to go along with it. Such behavior amounts to defrauding the public of their right to know what their government is doing behind closed doors. It could endanger the citizens of California.

 

 

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