By Rachel Swan
Updated 7:26 pm, Friday, June 24, 2016
An Oakland city administrator is advising the City Council to block a controversial plan to ship coal from the Port of Oakland after a long-awaited study revealed that exposure to coal dust could damage vital organs, cause cancer and stunt childhood growth and development.
Oakland Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio is recommending that the council ban storage and handling of coal in bulk facilities, including the shipping terminal that developer Phil Tagami plans to build near the east end of the Bay Bridge.
Cappio’s advice appeared in a staff report made public Friday, three days before the council meets for a public hearing and vote on Tagami’s plan to ship millions of tons of coal each year through the city. It included a damning report from the city’s environmental consultant, ESA, which said that railcars being unloaded at the terminal could send coal dust wafting over two neighboring schools, a child care center, commuters at the Bay Bridge toll plaza and parks near Interstate 880.
“Scientific research points to potential significant public health hazards related to coal/(petroleum) coke dust,” Cappio wrote in the city’s staff report. She wrote that coal dust can harm people’s hearts and lungs, hinder child development and lead to cancer. It would also pollute the air in West Oakland and potentially harm workers in the shipping facilities or nearby rail yards, Cappio wrote.
Tagami’s $250 million Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal project is a cornerstone of the huge 130-acre development that his company, California Capital & Investment Group, has undertaken at the former Oakland Army Base. The entire development will add rail lines, shipping centers and warehouses to a piece of land that has long sat barren. Coal didn’t appear to be part of the plan until 2014, when Tagami’s shipping operator,
Terminal Logistics Solutions, entered talks with four coal-mining counties in Utah whose leaders wanted to invest in the project — on the condition that Utah coal be shipped through Oakland.
In March, the Utah Legislature voted to spend $53 million in taxpayer funds on the Oakland terminal.
Officials in Oakland have struggled with whether to outright prohibit the transport and storage of coal in Oakland, a move that would require the city to alter its 3-year-old development agreement with Tagami and potentially derail the project. The coal-shipping plan has for months pitted environmentalists and health workers against labor groups that accuse the city of trying to chase out a project that could generate thousands of jobs.
Jessica Yarnall Loarie, a staff attorney for the Sierra Club’s environmental law program, said she is optimistic that the council will follow Cappio’s recommendation.
But David Smith, a lawyer representing Tagami, said that such a ban would be “a clear violation” of the development agreement. “Should they act on it, we would have no choice but to pursue all available legal remedies,” Smith said.
Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @rachelswan