East Palo Alto toxics fine is appealed

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 10, 1998

ENVIRONMENT: East Palo Alto toxics fine is appealed

Company will spend $100,000 on community projects

A company facing a fine of up to $225,000 for its tardiness in coming up with a toxics cleanup plan in East Palo Alto has appealed that fine and says it will donate $100,000 to community projects.

Rhone-Poulenc, the company responsible for arsenic contamination on and near the 1990 Bay Road site of a former pesticide manufacturing plant, says the cleanup order it violated is unfair.

"We have made every effort to comply with the order, but it imposed some unrealistic conditions," said Bob Ferguson, Rhone-Poulenc's remediation director. He added that the company appealed the order by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board when it was first issued in July, but no ruling has been made on the appeal.

The state board decided last month that the company would have to pay up to $225,000 for failing to comply for 241 days with the board's order to submit a cleanup plan for the property.

The arsenic contamination spread through groundwater to a site on Weeks Street proposed for a 63-unit housing development, but the owner of the property, Redwood Mortgage, reached an agreement with Rhone-Poulenc not to proceed with its development plans.

Rhone-Poulenc's delay in submitting a cleanup plan came about in part because of delays in its negotiations with Redwood Mortgage to add a deed restriction prohibiting residential development of the Weeks Street property.

"There was a disagreement over how deep to go with the cleanup," said Mara Feeney, a Rhone-Poulenc spokesperson.

"We informed (water board) staff that we were doing everything we could to complete the negotiations and get on with the cleanup that everyone wants," Ferguson said. "But we can't force property owners to complete a negotiation process by a certain deadline."

The state water board on May 21 gave Rhone-Poulenc one month to finance one or more environmental activities in the city, instead of paying the $225,000 fine to the state.

Rhone-Poulenc is proposing to spend $50,000 this year on as-yet unnamed community projects and $10,000 more per year for the next five years while its appeal of the board's May 21 decision is considered.

A statement from Rhone-Poulenc explained the appeal:

"Rhone-Poulenc has decided to appeal the fine because it feels the amount is unjustified, given the amount of remediation work the company has completed to date in East Palo Alto and the effort and expense put into negotiations with property owners over the past year."

--Don Kazak



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