, TERRY PIERSON, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Riverside officials have been asking the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to talk about a former sewer plant site where the department oversaw an environmental cleanup. Here is a timeline of the issue.
April 2014: State toxics officials certify that contamination is cleaned up at the site and homes can be built.
September 2014: Residents begin telling the City Council of health problems they attribute to the contamination.
February: City officials ask the state toxics department to give a presentation on the cleanup.
March: Department Director Barbara Lee visits the site and meets with residents.
Wednesday: Residents will stage a rally and panel discussion about the contamination and cleanup.
June 9: The City Council will have a public hearing on forming a special taxing district to pay for infrastructure for homes to be built on the site.
Riverside officials have been waiting since February to hear from a state agency about how it handled environmental cleanup at a former sewer plant that some residents say is still contaminated.
And they’ll continue to wait, because the state Department of Toxic Substances Control has not yet scheduled a meeting with the city, officials said Friday.
The department oversaw a two-phase cleanup at the site between Rutland and Crest avenues known as the ag park, where a sewer plant operated from 1942 to 1965 and some residents allege toxic material was dumped. State officials certified in April 2014 that the cleanup was complete and the land was suitable for development.
Residents from the surrounding neighborhood have said contamination from the site gave people tumors, cancer and other illnesses. Property owner Henry C. “Chuck” Cox, who is developing homes on the site, says he followed a state-approved cleanup plan and no contamination remains.
Because some Riverside officials still have questions, they asked state toxics officials to come to a City Council meeting and review the cleanup process. In April, the council postponed a hearing related to homes planned for the site so they could talk to toxics officials first.
“We have a new director, so before she made any decision she wanted to review the data,” state toxics department spokesman Tim Reese said, referring to Barbara Lee, who was appointed to head the agency in October.
Lee visited the site and met with concerned residents and environmental activist Penny Newman in March.
Though it’s unknown when toxics officials will make a presentation to the council, city officials may go ahead with a June 9 hearing on forming a special taxing district to pay for amenities in a housing tract planned for the site.
Using a fact sheet released last fall by the state toxics department, city staff will report to the council on the site cleanup and let the council decide whether to proceed with the hearing on the taxing district, Assistant City Manager Al Zelinka said.
But Newman, who heads the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in Jurupa Valley, said the city should stop any development from moving forward and have the site and surrounding neighborhood independently tested to ensure all contamination has been removed.
She has provided data on the site to state toxics and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, she said.
“Many of them feel they didn’t have all of the information on what has happened at the site,” she said.
Cox, the developer, said that although he’d like to get the taxing district approved, the city and state delays haven’t interfered with his plans for the site. Sewer lines have been installed, and curbs were built last week, he said.
Zelinka said state toxics officials haven’t given the city any reason to doubt that the site cleanup was adequate.
“We have no basis as a public agency to accept anything other than their certification,” he said.
Newman and neighbors of the site are planning a rally and panel discussion Wednesday to air their concerns and “demand that we get some answers to all the questions that have been raised,” Newman said.
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