June 23, 2008

Stanislaus County asking for official comments on West Park plan

Concerned about how the 4,800-acre West Park business and industrial park will affect the West Side and the county? Now's the time to raise questions.

The first step leading to an environmental impact report is a call for comment on what issues the report should consider. Stanislaus County on Wednesday opened a 45-day period for the public and interested agencies to weigh in.

Comments will be gathered and referred to consultants who will be writing the report. Traffic concerns will go to a traffic engineer, for instance, and biological concerns to a biological engineer. The consultants will analyze problems the project may cause and consider ways to alleviate them.

A draft environmental impact report will be published, and again the public and agencies will have a chance to comment. The final EIR will include all those comments and responses from the consultants.

The purpose of the report is to make sure decision-makers, in this case the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, have as much information as possible when they pass final judgment on the project, said county interim Planning Director Kirk Ford.

The West Park project is complex and controversial. Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos wants to build an inland port and short-haul railroad linking the Port of Oakland to the Crows Landing Air Facility, a former naval air station.

The project includes the 1,527-acre air facility with an airport and a designated county redevelopment area.

Among the issues raised during public debate on the project are:

  • Traffic generated by the 37,000 jobs Kamilos says the project will create
  • Air quality problems from the convergence of trucks, trains and cars at the site
  • The loss of thousands of acres of prime farmland
  • Traffic circulation problems in Patterson caused by added train traffic
  • The source of water for the project

On the plus side, developers say, are the promise of those 37,000 jobs created over 30 years; eased congestion on the Altamont Pass and improved regional air quality as the railroad replaces truck trips; a quicker, more efficient way for farmers and food processors to get products to international markets and for consumer goods from the Pacific Rim to reach California markets.

Search for solutions

The report will look at ways to alleviate problems, such as adding lanes to roads to ease traffic. Some issues might not have a practical solution, Ford said. The Board of Supervisors in those cases can find an overriding consideration to approve the project or decide to reject the project if the problems are too great.

An impact that can't be mitigated might be, for instance, the loss of 12 trees to build a small shopping center. An overriding consideration might be that the creation of 15 jobs at the center is more important than the loss of 12 trees.

The EIR process is expected to take until the end of 2009, according to county deputy executive officer Keith Boggs. "That's an aggressive schedule," he added.

County officials say they want to make sure every concern is identified and explored, at least in part to make sure the EIR is defensible in court.

"Nobody wants to end up with a document that isn't adequate," Ford said. "It's in nobody's best interest to have something missing."

Nearby cities can weigh in

Kamilos, whose company will pay for the report, estimated it will cost several million dollars to complete.

What issues are likely to pose the biggest challenges?

"Any large project has to deal with traffic, financing of the infrastructure and construction on a timely basis," Kamilos said. Air quality, both local and regional, railroad impacts and the economic benefit of the project will be prominent issues, Kamilos said.

In addition to local residents and agencies, the EIR process includes state and federal agencies and adjoining cities and counties, Kamilos said.

"At the end, we would have a tremendous amount of scrutiny and commentary. And we would have a stronger project than what we started with," he said.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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