Despite environmental concerns, Port of Oakland to allow sand and gravel plant

OAKLAND — With the promise of millions of dollars in lease revenue, officials at the city’s port will allow the construction of a sand and gravel plant that environmentalists and even the state attorney general have warned would worsen air pollution in West Oakland.

Eagle Rock Aggregates, a Vancouver, Canada-based company, will store large volumes of the building materials in the open air at an 18-acre marine bulk terminal at the harbor.

The 12-year lease — approved last week by the port’s board of commissioners — is expected to generate between $1 million and $6 million annually for the city’s port, where officials have pushed to expand economic activity and often touted local job creation.

Residents and environmental advocates in the nearby West Oakland neighborhoods have said for years that the area experiences disproportionately worse air pollution, and studies have shown twice the rate of asthma hospitalizations and emergency room visits as other parts of Alameda County.

Still, a lawsuit by the environmentalist group West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project — supported last year by the state attorney general — is expected to reach a settlement that will allow for the plant’s construction.

Despite assurances by Eagle Rock that transport of the materials will involve fewer emissions than previously planned, the plant itself appears likely to operate without any covers that prevent air pollution.

Port officials did not comment on the lease agreement. A port spokesperson said details of the settlement will not be made public until it is “fully executed and effective.”

Semi-trailer trucks line up on Middle Harbor Road as they arrive at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Much of the pollution in West Oakland comes from the neighboring port, freeways, rail activity and other industries that generate diesel particulates, carbon emissions and other toxic hazards.

“We have pushed the powers that be, the institution at the port, to start being held accountable for what’s coming off their sites,” said Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project in a recent interview.

Last year, state Attorney General Rob Bonta joined the environmental group’s legal fight against the plant’s construction, agreeing that the millions of tons of construction materials stored there could allow dust and particulate matter to float off into the community.

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“The Eagle Rock Aggregate Terminal will only add to their pollution burden, resulting in shorter life spans, more trips to the emergency room, and chronic illness,” Bonta’s office said at the time.

Other regional agencies — including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission — have publicly called on the port to do more to reduce the plant’s impacts.

Port officials note that, as part of the settlement, vessels traveling to Oakland will use shore power — an alternative to fuel — while at berth in the harbor.

Feeling the concerns have been addressed, port staff touted in a staff report the potential “revenue generation and portfolio diversification” that Eagle Rock’s plant would generate.

“Further, the Project provides much-needed construction materials, all of which will be used for many local (and regional) construction projects that support housing, the local economy, and local jobs,” the report states.

The port’s board is expected to bring the lease agreement back for a second reading and final vote in the coming weeks.

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