SMART Board Gets an Earful
Citizens confront SMART Board over environmental toxins
Is SMART using toxic creosote ties in San Rafael? 12 residents showed up at today’s SMART Board meeting in Petaluma armed with photos of creosote timber ties stacked on Los Ranchitos, ties that are being installed at our grade crossings, and timber ties lying in rainwater next to Las Gallinas creek. We showed photos of the berm, the drainage issues it is causing and the noxious fumes from creosote timber ties. Some ties have already been installed at Smith Ranch Road and Civic Center, where rainwater will cause the creosote to leach into the protected watershed. Download our handouts in pdf format, which we printed and gave to the Board members. It’s a good photo essay of the issues and permit violations noted in this post.
You can watch the video of the meeting. The public comments are first. Ken is first up to speak at 2:53.
Read the story about the use of creosote in the Marin IJ here.
What we asked for
Residents demanded that SMART issue a stop work order until these permit violations are corrected. We also asked the SMART Board to agendize these issues – issues have to be on the public agenda for them to take action. Chair Judith Arnold (also a County Supervisor) seemed unhappy that she had a roomful of people wanting to speak, and halfway through our presentations, asked the remaining speakers to reduce the allowed 3 minutes to 2 minutes speaking time. We did not comply.
After the comments were closed, she tried to move on, but the Board members were concerned about what they had heard. San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips took the lead in acknowledging the serious and legitimate concerns of his fellow residents and the need for SMART to investigate. He was joined by two other Board members who called on the General Manager to look into the issues and report back to the Board.
Watch the Video
We went on a road trip with Ken Dickinson of Rafael Meadows to Las Gallinas creek near the Civic Center Station to see the issues with the watershed.
Then we traveled up to the Smith Ranch Road SMART crossing to see the toxic timber ties installed under the crossing which are supposed to be “encapsulated” but simply sit on the ground with a cement cap….within yards of the watershed.
Can’t you smell the creosote?
For the last couple of months, you may have noticed the fumes if you drive down Los Ranchitos. Hundreds of new chemically treated timber ties have been piled there. We assume it’s creosote. The fumes are so noxious that neighbors report headaches and for months have not been able to open their windows.
There’s a lot wrong with this. First, SMART was in violation of its permit by not properly covering hazardous materials on site. Our winter rains washed that creosote right into the ground and into the nearby riparian creek and drainage ditches. We’ve got a picture of what happens when creosote is in a jar of water for a few days in our handouts. But it gets worse – what are those ties even doing there?
Who said SMART could use creosote railroad ties?
We don’t believe SMART’s permit allows them to use timber ties in the Los Ranchitos/San Pedro Road crossing. Just last April, they applied for a permit for the construction from the Civic Center station to downtown San Rafael. The application is called JARPA (Joint Aquatic Resource Permit Application) because it covers several agencies that protect our watershed: the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the California State Department of Fish and Game.
We’ve read this JARPA. It says NOTHING about using timber ties at grade crossings or anywhere else. It does NOT specify what would be done to protect the environment from new chemically treated timber. It does NOT identify the specific sites where timber ties would be used. The JARPA simply DOES NOT contemplate the use of chemically treated timber ties. This was only 9 months ago. And yet surprise! Creosote ties are being installed this week at North San Pedro Road, close to homes, a creek and a pre-school.
Additionally, SMART filed an Addendum in January 2011 to their 2006 Final Environmental Impact Report, stating that they were only using cement ties in the rail construction, not timbers. Of course the original EIR doesn’t mention creosote timber. The only references in that document is about the process for disposing of old creosote railroad ties.
Encapsulation? What the heck is that?
Creosote ties have already been installed at Smith Ranch Road and Civic Center Drive. How do we know? Because we can see them. We learned that the Regional Water Quality Control Board was called to the Civic Center site and, faced with imminent installation of these ties outside of the permit (guess the contractors forgot to mention them – ever), agreed to allow their use in those locations IF they were ‘encapsulated.’ We assume that encapsulation is needed to protect the creosote from leaching into nearby protected watershed and marshes.
Sounds good, but doesn’t look very effective. Check out our video. A concrete cap is not encapsulation – it’s more like a lid. Where they’ve put asphalt on top, it is porous; water will leach through. You can also see that there are fully exposed timber ties on either side of the grade crossing. And by the way, we understand that there are environmentally safer alternatives. Creosote timber didn’t need to be used. But, who cares? No one is watching.
We care about the watershed. SMART? Not so much.
SMART is supposed to protect marshlands from construction activities. In October 2012, community action forced SMART to shut down construction along Las Gallinas Creek because they weren’t protecting the watershed and marshland with fencing as required by their permit. Operations resumed, but they are still in violation today. Not only is some fencing down, there are creosote timber ties excavated from the old rail bed that are lying in the water with dead pickle weed nearby. We’ve got it on video.
One resident showed photos and challenged the SMART Board: “How is it possible that in all this time no site inspection caught this blatant violation of the permit? How hard is it for the contractor to haul away ALL the construction debris, as required by the permit?” Indeed.
Remember the berm along Los Ranchitos? More problems
We posted about the berm February 10. The 6 foot tall berm was created by soil excavated from the old railroad bed that the contractor just piled up along the neighborhood fence line. We believe it violates SMART’s permit. The permit application states, “Temporary fills will be removed and the elevations and contours of the site will be returned to pre-construction conditions. These areas will be revegetated.”
Neighbors asked the SMART Board to make the contractor take the berm out as a permit violation. If a permit violation isn’t enough motivation, the berm is already causing flooding problems (we have photos) and is an attractive nuisance. Someone walking on it could fall into the rail line. Maybe these potential liabilities will be enough to get SMART to take action. And one more thing. The soil from the old rail bed was not tested for toxins before being piled up closer to the neighbors. Strike three.
Are you worn out yet?
There is a lot wrong with the process SMART uses to monitor their contractors and communicate with the public. In April 2014 the Marin Grand Jury report slammed SMART for not reaching out more for public comment and involvement. Apparently that fell on deaf ears. We are trying to get a community meeting together with the help of Mayor Phillips and hope you will make the time to show up and voice your opinion. More to come as that develops.
How you can help
Share this story! Send the link out. We then recommend you write, email, and/or call the SMART Board of Directors. The list of Directors is located at http://www2.
You can write or call directly to the SMART office as well:
SMART District Office
5401 Old Redwood Highway, Suite 200
Petaluma, CA 94954
Office Main: 707.794.3330
Additionally, you could also help by writing a Letter to the Editor of the Marin IJ and ask that SMART be held accountable for their permit violations and lack of transparency.
> Read more stories about SMART on We Are San Rafael