Napa County is at the forefront of a herculean effort to restore the Napa River, including the historic tidal marshes into a geomorphically stable, living estuarine system. Levees have been breached, old salt ponds are transitioning to tidal marshes and the restored tidal prism has greatly reduced the flood threat in the Napa Valley.
But all that good work stops at the Napa County line. On the other of the county line, a shadow government has been working in secret to bring back polluting, heavy industry by dredging the lower Napa River to accommodate huge transpacific freighters and jumpstart the industrial economic engine that stalled when the Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed in 1996.
Not only will this plan sabotage Vallejo’s new General Plan, it will sabotage Napa County’s efforts to restore the Napa River Estuary and potentially damage the vineyards in the Carneros Appellation.
In the first phase, the historic General Mills Plant, which sits where the Napa River enters San Francisco Bay, will be demolished to build a new port and cement plant. The port will accommodate bulk freighters bringing industrial waste from Asian steel mills to be ground up for something the project proponents are calling “green cement.”
The huge ships will be reloaded with a variety of “bulk goods” for their return to Asia which, the City of Oakland is finding out to its horror, is legalese for coal and petroleum coke.
Trains 77 cars long will travel on the historic 1869 Napa Valley Railroad and through Jamieson Canyon several times each week. And almost 400 heavy truck trips per day will run seven days a week on local roads, Highway 29 and Interstate 80, as if the traffic is not bad enough already.
And that is not the worst news. The draft environmental impact report for the combined project said that there was nothing in their sample of industrial waste to worry about.
But Material Data Sheets of the same material from other steel mills paint a different picture. U.S. Steel found Calcium Sulfide, which they list as “very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.” Hexavelant Chromium, the toxin made famous by Erin Brockvich, is in other samples. Plus, Asia does not have the strict environmental controls of either the United States or Europe. So relying on one sample as the basis for the entire environmental report is purposefully misleading. The environmental report notes that dust from the waste off-loaded from the bulk freighters with clam-shell cranes onto conveyor belts and dumped in open piles over 48 feet high along the Napa River will be “fugitive,” that means it will escape.
Some will disburse in the winds and some will get into the river to travel on the tides which reach all the way into the city of Napa. There’s more. The environmental report is clear that 70 tons of NOx and pollutants will be emitted each year largely from the freighters and diesel trucks. This exceeds the legal limits by six times but the project proponents plan to buy offsets from the Bay Area Air Quality Management Agency. In other words, all of that nitrogen/nitric oxide, which converts to acid rain and fog, will still enter the atmosphere to be dispersed on the prevailing winds. No airshed analyses were done to determine whether the Carneros vineyards or the salt marshes just a few miles away will be harmed.
Napa County tends to ignore Vallejo like some far-away, Third World country. But Mother Nature doesn’t pay attention to arbitrary distinctions like county lines. What happens on the lower Napa River doesn’t affect only Vallejo. The cement plant and port are just the beginning. If the U.S. Army Corps dredges for large transpacific freighters, more heavy industry spewing toxins into our common air and waters will be inevitable.
Visit voicesofvallejo.com to learn more about Vallejo’s Shadow Government.