National Park Service busts through seal-pupping deadline as fired former diver challenges costs.
National Park Service (NPS) was supposed to have finished its Drakes Estero Restoration Project by the beginning of the seal- pupping season on March 1 this year. In its lengthy battle to evict the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC), NPS previously made unsupported claims, dating all the way back to early 2007 testimony before the Marin County Board of Supervisors, that even minor disturbances would cause massive loss of seal pups. Regardless of these claims, NPS’ work has continued for over two months into the critical pupping season, which runs for four months, ending 30 June. The work involves continuous operations of large barges and excavators throughout the Estero. The barge and shoreside facilities are clearly visible in this image from a recent flight over Drake’s Estero. NPS has not respond to enquiries prior to publication.
Aerial Photo Showing Barges and Equipment at old DBOC Site
In a previous RR Times article, Matt Zugsberger, a contract diver who claims that he was fired from the project for whistleblower activities, made numerous statements concerning his employment and worker safety. He also told the RR Times that from his review of the NPS website, the level of effort and environmental compliance was far less than that described in the NPS documents and safety and technical procedures were “way out of line on other projects I have worked on involving pilings and treated timber.” To proceed with his investigations, Zugsberger filed FOIA actions with National Park Service, Department of Labor, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So far, only USACE has completed his FOIA request.
“I had been told by Galindo, the subcontractor that hired and subsequently fired me, that this was a $4+ million project, but it was only after I received the actual contract from NPS as a preliminary response on my FOIA request, and the NPS Preliminary Engineering report (among other documents) from USACE that my suspicions were confirmed. I started out wanting to make sure I could work safely, and ended up getting fired for my troubles,” said Zugsberger, in the earlier RR Times reporting. “After I was terminated, I reviewed the documents on the NPS website, and found that the planned scope of the project was much larger than what was being provided by the subcontractor.”
Zugsberger provided the RR Times with copies of the contract, and the USACE documents. “The first thing I noticed was that the contract clearly specified on page 11 that the wood waste was toxic and had to be hauled to a Class 1 landfill. The engineering report on page 13 lists 477 tons of toxic wood waste, and assumed that some mud and additional debris would be sticking to some of the wood. When I reported receiving chemical burns, I was told by Galindo and NPS and other Government personnel that toxic sediment was not a factor, and that they had run models that showed all the toxins had leached out of the wood.” RR Times could not find any direct reference to the presence of 447 tons of toxic wood with potentially adhering sediment in the documents submitted for USACE approval by the Park Service.
Other than the previously cited reference in the Preliminary Engineering report, there are only oblique reference appearing on page seven of the 17 Sept 2015 NPS Environmental Screening Form under ‘Water Quality,’ implying that models showed all toxins leached out after one year and a reference to tonnage of oyster rack. In addition, the NPS Categorical Exclusion Form (used to avoid the need for an environmental-impact statement) does not mention the 447 tons of toxic wood waste requiring disposal in a Class 1 landfill, but merely states that a total of 500 tons of aquaculture and marine debris will be removed. It was signed by Park Superintendent Cecily Muldoon in January 2016.
Zugsberger has been very focused in tracking down his concerns. “Once I saw NPS had specified that the treated wood waste (TWW) had to go to a Class 1 dump, I realized I could get a pretty good estimate of actual costs. The disposal of the waste was line item 3 on page 10 in the contract for $1,299,000, out of the initial $3.5 million discussed. It was initially listed as an hourly charge, but was changed to a bulk (fixed price) payment when the contract was revised on 6 December 2016, shortly after I was fired. I don’t know if there was any connection, but any documents on that issues are subject to my FOIA requests. Slow FOIA response, especially from Department of Labor has made it virtually impossible to pursue my wage claims and defend myself against baseless accusations.”
Zugsberger stated: “I called all the California Class 1 dumps, and couldn’t find any who had accepted that much toxic wood waste. It was only when I called a couple of the big waste- hauling companies that I finally discovered where some of the waste had gone. Waste Management’s sales manager recognized the name of the contractor, but he understood that some of the waste had gone to WMI’s Redwood Landfill in Marin, but that they wouldn’t have accepted the wood but that their Altamonte Landfill is not a Class 1 dump, but can accept some treated wood waste (TWW) of this type, but he didn’t remember a large contract like that.” Zugsberger also claimed that Galindo made repeated references to disposing of some of the waste “in the Delta, for erosion control.” Galindo construction has sofar failed to respond inquiries by the RR Times.
Zugsberger went on to describe his analysis; “Altamont is approximately 90 miles from Point Reyes, and 500 tons of waste would require 25 trips. If you assume a generous $2,000 a trip, that’s only $50,000 total, with tipping fees according to WMI being $75 a ton, or $37,500. If you add $500 to load each truck, for an additional $12,500, which is a very high figure, you still end up with a total of $107,500 for the wood waste. Much of the remaining waste, if not contaminated, would have a significantly lower tipping fee. Using the same cost basis for all of the waste removed, and rounding it up to 1,500 tons, the total bill still comes to only $262,500. So the question is this: where did the waste go, and when you take away $262,500 from $1,299,000, where did just over $1 million dollars go?”
The RR Times has reviewed Zugsberger’s figures, based on the documents provided by the USACE, and documents on the PRNS website, and he is correct in his general understanding. A 2014 Press Democrat article cites costs of $400,000 for both rack removal and waste disposal. Court records show that Kevin Lunny of DBOC, in a sworn court statement, provided the estimates of the amount of timber in the racks which were used as the basis of the NPS Engineering report analysis. DBOC estimated the dry weight of the wood as 375 tons, but could weigh more because of water saturation. It was also noted that such TWW could not be disposed of in a local landfill. The court documents also note that it was proposed to ship the waste to Marin Resource Recovery Center, a three-hour round trip from the Estero, for a total cost of $9,375. WMRC are licensed to act as a transfer station for Toxic Wood Waste and charge a $150/ton tipping fee. Coupled with the $9,375 trucking costs, this equates to a total of $56,250. As a worst case, applying that cost model to the entire 1,500-ton volume of waste produces a total cost of $225,000, very close to Zugsberger’s estimate of $262,500
Given the major discrepancy between court records, outside confirmation and the line item for waste disposal in the no-bid waste-removal contract, the only way to reconcile the issue is for NPS and its contractors to account fully for the total volume of the waste. how they stored and handled it in accordance with conditions called for in the permits, and federal and state laws. Equally important is whether the waste ended up in a legal repository, what actual costs were involved and why there is such a huge difference between rationally estimated waste-disposal costs and the amount paid.