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‘A change coming’: Environmental group vows to keep eye on gravel facility coming to Oakland’s Port

on October 3, 2023

The Oakland Board of Port Commissioners on Thursday approved an agreement for construction of a sand and gravel facility. After reaching a settlement with the port last week, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project has vowed to monitor the development. 

The resident-led environmental justice organization filed a lawsuit last year to block the 18-acre Eagle Rock Aggregates Terminal. The lawsuit argued the dust and pollution from the site, constructed less than a mile from West Oakland neighborhoods, would “expose an entire new generation of West Oaklanders to increased air pollution.”  Eagle Rock Aggregates, a construction aggregate company, expects to break ground next year. 

 Surrounded by freeways and diesel truck traffic, residents in West Oakland already breathe air that contains high levels of toxic diesel particulates. West Oakland residents also face higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and other poor health outcomes related to air pollution than people in other parts of the region, according to a 2019 report by the Environmental Indicators Project and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. 

A woman in pink cap, pink short-sleeved shirt and red pants and dark-framed glasses looks at the camera, her hands clasped and resting on a wooden fence. Behind her is a green wood building with a blue door.
Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, outside the group’s office. (Holly J. McDede)

The settlement requires the Port and Eagle Rock to construct an electrical shore power system for ships to plug into the grid and turn off diesel engines while docked. The agreement also establishes watering and monitoring protocols to reduce dust from aggregate stockpiles. 

“We got close to a green terminal,” said Margaret Gordon, a third-generation West Oakland resident and co-founder of the Environmental Indicators Project. “We have some guarantees behind it. It was not the word ‘shall’ but the word ‘must’. That’s the difference.” 

The Port or Eagle Rock must also hold an educational session describing operations and dust control measures within six months after operations begin. 

In a statement, Eagle Rock President Scott Dryden said he is “excited to continue serving the Bay Area and to solidify the collaborative relationship with our neighbors in West Oakland.” 

Bryan Brandes, Port of Oakland maritime director, said the environmental safeguards put in place for the Eagle Rock project fit the Port’s clean energy goals. He also said the project will provide concrete and other construction materials to help Oakland and the region meet its housing development goals. 

The environmental group has the backing of California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who joined the lawsuit noting that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is required to reduce air pollution in West Oakland. 

“For too long, environmental concerns raised by West Oakland residents have not been heeded. The Bureau of Environmental Justice within my office exists to right those wrongs, and today is proof that our efforts are making a positive difference,” Bonta said in a news release last week announcing the settlement. 

Oakland, meanwhile, remains caught in a legal fight with developer Phil Tagami, who has long sought to build an export coal terminal at the old West Oakland Army Base at the port. Environmental groups have also raised concern about the Port’s plan to expand the airport. 

Gordon says the lawsuit her group filed forced a necessary conversation. She and other organizers plan to continue pushing to reduce pollution and improve health outcomes in their neighborhood. 

“We didn’t get everything,” Gordon said. “But we got enough to say there’s a change coming.” 

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