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Fill dug up as Silver Bend environmental dispute simmers

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A six-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Bowman owned by Placer County continues to receive intense environmental scrutiny. The land – targeted for an affordable housing development and located off Silver Bend Way – was recently visited by an excavator that dug up piles of fill and then filled the holes in again. For Auburn activist Dale Smith and nearby property owner, Wes Burris, the dig provided what they feel is evidence of their contention that the site has major environmental questions. This week, they observed chunks of discarded concrete, rebar and piping dug up and say there is more of the same still below the surface, as well as the potential for other pollutants that would need a costly cleanup. But a Placer County redevelopment official said the excavation was undertaken to provide prospective developer USA Properties with a clearer idea of costs and scope of fill removal before construction starts. The material was eventually returned to the ground by a USA Properties contractor, county Redevelopment Agency deputy director Jim LoBue said. LoBue said chemical testing for anything dangerous on the land has taken place and early results point to no contamination on the site. The recent dig will help provide answers on construction questions, he said. “The developer did tests to look at what’s down there for planning and cost estimates to remove and replace it,” LoBue said. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider a request to amend an agreement with the county and USA Properties to allow a $250,000 loan for assistance with engineering and design on the Miner’s Ridge Family Apartment site. This is the second attempt by Placer County dating back to 2001 to locate affordable housing on the land, situated behind the Raley’s supermarket. “We think it’s certainly proper to thoroughly investigate the site and bring in review bodies to verify site safety,” LoBue said. “But everything we’ve seen so far and been told by professionals doing the testing indicates the type of serious contamination Dale Smith seems to think is there is not the case at all.” Smith has been involved in battles at both the local government and court level over environmental concerns with the site for nearly a decade. “What they’re saying that there’s no likelihood of pollution is ridiculous,’ Smith said Friday. Smith said that the site has fill that isn’t compacted and allows water and pollutants to run into drainage along Foresthill Road and down to the North Fork American River. LoBue said that issues on drainage would be addressed at the building permit stage of the planned 64-unit development. Burris, who owns land adjacent to the Miner’s Ridge site, said the excavation earlier this month dug down as deep as about 9 feet below the ground. “But they’re not going all the way down,” Burris said “The top of the pile indicates the last scoop and there was a 2- to 3-foot-side chunk of asphalt. They could have gone further. It shows me that more testing needs to go on to see what is actually there.” While LoBue said no tests have shown it, Smith said he’s mounting his own investigation into county records he requested in October to help determine the possibility of toxic substances at the site. Smith said he has several boxes of records to sift through. “What would two or 10 more 80-foot trenches gouged out of all that illegal fill reveal about what is really under that piece of property?” Smith asked.