Newly uncovered aerial photographs of the southeast corner of Mission Bay Park dating back to the 1950s and '60s appear to indicate that the dumping of hazardous wastes by the military and defense contractors was much more widespread than previously acknowledged by government agencies.That's the conclusion reached by a Long Beach environmental consultant hired by California Earth Corps, a Southern California activist group that has been questioning SeaWorld's wisdom in building a new thrill ride on top of the toxic site.
"My personal review of the photos indicates a significantly larger disposal area than... designated as the approximate landfill boundaries," wrote David L. Bauer, president of the Long Beach-based environmental consulting firm Targhee Inc. "It is apparent that a portion of SeaWorld is located on top of a part of the Mission Bay Dump."
Early last month, CityBeat reported that California Earth Corps petitioned the California Coastal Commission to revoke the development permit it issued last September for the 95-foot-tall "Journey to Atlantis" splashdown ride. The environmental group had claimed that SeaWorld "intentionally" withheld information from the commission about potentially lethal concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide gas found near where the ride is under construction.SeaWorld executives have rejected that claim, arguing that they fully cooperated in the permit process.
Last week, the Coastal Commission, meeting in far-off Eureka, seemed ready to side with SeaWorld-nothing surprising about that, given that the commission has revoked only one permit in its 30-year history.But after more than an hour of discussion, commission Executive Director Peter Douglas urged a continuance, arguing that commission staff should review the new revelations. That means the next time the commission deliberates on the SeaWorld ride permit in October, it will be doing so in San Diego.
Meanwhile, Don May, president of California Earth Corps, will present the group's findings at Friday's meeting of the city's Mission Bay Landfill Technical Advisory Committee, headed by City Councilmember Donna Frye. The committee is pushing ahead with a study of the old dump.
May, who appeared before the Coastal Commission last week, is convinced the aerial photos show that the dump runs under the area designated as the SeaWorld master plan site, where theme park executives have requested permission to build not only the splashdown ride, but also additional parking and-at some point in the future-a hotel. The commission in May rejected SeaWorld's parking expansion plan, citing as part of its reasoning the city's ongoing investigation into the toxic dump's effect on the area.
Bauer, the environmental consultant hired by May's group, said he and his staff studied aerial photographs of Mission Bay taken from the '50s through 1963-the dump was officially closed by the city in 1959. Previous studies suggest that as much as 2 million gallons of industrial wastes were dumped over the years in the area when San Diego was a defense-manufacturing powerhouse.
How much of the contaminants remain is unknown, but Bauer-who has interpreted aerial photos since the 1950s-said it is clear that "the entire site has been used for dumping both liquid and solid wastes. Even if [only the] eastern area was used for hazardous waste disposal, due to [water] inundation and frequent soil movement, the western area was subsequently contaminated."
Bauer concludes: "The "project area' is well within an area used for active disposal and in all probability is contaminated."
May also reported to the Coastal Commission that "examination of aerial photographs from the San Diego Historical Society from 1949 to Dec. 7, 1959, unambiguously document the uncontrolled and unregulated dumping of hazardous and non-hazardous materials from the west end all the way to the east."
He alleged that this is consistent with previously unearthed letters from defense contractors Convair and Ryan "describing rolling barrels of solvents such as carbon tetrachloride, benzene, toluene... along with etchant and chemical milling acids... [and] lead-based paints and materials now classified as Priority I carcinogens, into trenches below sea level.
"Those that did not sink, according to one memo, were pierced by bulldozer blades; that is, until the treads became so corroded as to become unusable."
Sabrina Venskus, the Santa Monica attorney representing California Earth Corps, said the recently discovered aerial photos offer "irrefutable evidence" that the new ride is being built "on top of a hazardous waste dump."
Venskus also alleges that both SeaWorld and the city violated state law by failing to apply to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to determine if the land should be designated as a "hazardous waste property." Special clearances from the state would be required to build on such property, although the state did cede permitting control of the site to the city in the '80s.
The attorney also wonders why SeaWorld has never had soil samples analyzed for other projects it has undertaken at the site. She said no testing was done on core samples for such projects as the Wild Arctic Ride and the parking-lot expansion.
"This deviation from standard practice is further evidence that SeaWorld knew that the dump extended under the Master Plan area," Venskus told the Coastal Commission.
She claims SeaWorld took the attitude of "don't ask, don't tell" when it came to working with the state agency. "SeaWorld's pattern of disregarding its legal duties... by purposely suppressing information related to the toxic waste dump, has and will likely continue to cause injuries, death and harm to coastal resources."Prepare for fireworks in the coming weeks-and not the kind SeaWorld is used to setting off.