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Skinner responds to McGrath, regarding soil contamination

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I would like to make several comments in reply to the recent Guest Commentary written by Joe McGrath regarding “why he can’t remain quiet any longer.”

Mr. McGrath wrote: “In addition, I have unnecessarily spent another $100,000 to disprove the many non-factual claims made to the California State Water Board regarding undisclosed contamination left by the prior owner.”

In a letter to Mr. McGrath from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, dated March 7, 2018, they write:

“Three rounds of excavation were conducted on May2, 2017, Nov. 27, 2017 and Nov. 30, 2017 in areas of known automotive repair work. A total of 564 tons of excavated soil was taken to landfills. All final soil confirmation samples results are below residential ESL’s for lead and petroleum hydrocarbon indicating the excavations were successful. Most of the soil samples including the final confirmation samples are above the residential ESL of 0.30 mg/kg for Cr +6 (between 0.275 and 1.34 mg/kg).”

Does Mr. McGrath think that removing 564 tons of soil from this site supports his assertion that he “unnecessarily spent another $100,000” disproving the many non-factual claims regarding contamination of this site? If the site wasn’t contaminated with lead and hydrocarbons why was this extensive amount of soil removal required by both Napa County Division of Environmental Health and SFBRWCB resulting in their finding “the excavations were successful”?

I might suggest Mr. McGrath develop an understanding of a saying a professor at UC Davis drilled into me as worth remembering:

“A belief is not true because it is useful.” -- Henri Frederic Amiel

In other words, just because Mr. McGrath believes and states in writing in his Guest Commentary that he spent $100,000 to disprove there were many non-factual claims regarding contamination at the site, doesn’t make it true. In fact, the evidence of having removed over 1 millions pounds of soil contaminated with lead and hydrocarbons that were measured in excess of the Environmental Safe Levels (ESL) says otherwise.

I would think the community would be thankful that in light of the past Planning Commission, City Council, and Mayor’s failure to address this issue other than through a legal loophole concerning the design review of the exterior and other cosmetics involved in the project some of the McCorkle Avenue neighbors took action. Because of the concerns of taxpaying and voting McCorkle Avenue residents and their attempts to insert a higher level of due diligence into this project, this matter was referred to the Environmental Safety Inspector in Napa County, who because of the potential seriousness of the lead soil levels and potential contamination groundwater issues with regard to elevated Cr +6 levels referred the matter to the SFBRWCB as is required by law. This was done to protect the lives of any future residents, particularly any children, that reside in any of these housing units and to also protect against any source of potential groundwater contamination from a source relatively close to one of the City of St. Helena’s major water supply wells.

Eight units, 16 children, five years potential exposure, 80 exposure years versus $100K remediation cost. Worth $1,250 per child??

Otherwise one does not have to look far to see what this issue could have become:

- Oakland’s Toxic Lead Contamination isn’t in the Water. It’s in the Buildings and Dirt, and It’s Bad. East Bay Express 12/29/2016

- Oakland’s Lead Paint Problem Persists. East Bay Express 1/25/19.

So, Mr. McGrath’s claim that his costs “to disprove the non-factual claims” regarding this undisclosed contamination problem were unnecessary is nothing more than what we should probably expect from one intent on putting his “useful beliefs” before the facts.

Paul Skinner, Ph.D.

Soil Scientist, UC Davis

Kidd Ranch Road and McCorkle Avenue property owner

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I am writing in response to Mr. McGrath's Public Comment, published in the March 14 edition of the Star ("I cannot remain quiet any longer," M…

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