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Posted on Feb 19, 2015 in Meetings, SMART | 10 comments

SMART Board Gets an Earful

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?

stack of timber ties

Stacks of creosote timber ties stacked next to Los Ranchitos road, not covered and noxious.

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.

SMART crossing showing timber ties

The cement crossing sits on top and bolts to the timbers which are supposed to be encapsulated. But…we see you under there!

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.

 

Las Gallinas creek

Discarded timbers left by contractors 2 years ago when they dug up the old tracks, float in the Las Gallinas Federally-protected watershed and habitat in January. Shameful.

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.sonomamarintrain.org/index.php/misc/about_us. Unfortunately this list has no links so you will then have to Google them to get a Contact Us link. Another failing of the SMART website and indicative of how difficult it is to contact them.

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
Fax: 707.794.3037

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

 

 

10 Comments

  1. How can we get involved? To whom should we write/call?

    • Hi Joanne, Here’s info on who to contact:

      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.sonomamarintrain.org/index.php/misc/about_us. Unfortunately this list has no links so you will then have to Google them to get a Contact Us link. Another failing of the SMART website and indicative of how difficult it is to contact them.

      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
      Fax: 707.794.3037

      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.

      Thanks!

  2. Thank you for your diligence on this important topic. Pls STOP the usage of environmental toxins and keep Marin beautiful!

  3. Thank you SO much for staying on top of this!!

  4. Thanks again for all you are doing for us.

  5. Sicked by yet more lack of oversight by anyone! Keep up the great work! There are many more as we saw with the Quiet Zone who will join in!

  6. Smells Like Creosote To Me
    We suspect that the stored toxic railroad cross ties that you have been smelling over on Los Ranchitos road are Coal Tar Creosote Ties. Cresosote is the bad boy of Toxic Pollutants. It is a mixture of over 200 chemical compounds but 90% of them are polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons which is number 55 on the EPA’s list of toxic chemicals, right below PCB’s. Then comes Napthalene, which is number 46 on the EPA’s list of toxic chemicals, right below Mercury.
    Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene and Phenol are also along for the ride and they are all on the EPA’s toxic list.

    It is hard to believe that the Regional Water Quality Board (RWQB) which is charged with the protection of our waters and governs discharges into them would tolerate this. When we checked SMART’s permit application we could find no mention of creosote ties being used so not surprisingly RWQB issued them with a certificate for the project.

    The Regional Water Quality Board needs to step up on this one ASAP

  7. This is completely unacceptable.
    Many thanks for bringing this to the forefront –
    Someone at SMART needs to be accountable for the mess they are creating. I am hoping that our community will unite and apply whatever pressure is needed to ensure we don’t allow toxins in our water, to save our trees, build the bike path that was promised, and protect the neighborhoods located near the tracks.

  8. People on Los Ranchitos are now experiencing health issues in the form of headaches and nausea from the smells coming from the tracks. Write the board of supervisors!!! I am not a lawyer but if I lived in that neighborhood I would be organizing a class action law suit.

  9. Is there a way to send all of our comments directly to SMART……This is ridiculous!

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