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Port Policy Cracks Down on Polluters : New Department Will Monitor Leaseholders

Times Staff Writer

Port Commissioner Louis Wolfsheimer on Monday announced an initiative by the tidelands agency to get tough with companies who lease public land along the waterfront and are found to discharge pollutants into San Diego Bay.

Wolfsheimer said the San Diego Unified Port District intends to establish a “toxics monitoring” department, with technical experts, to keep tabs on what any of the agency’s 400 industrial leaseholders might be dumping into the bay. Even before the department is created, port staff members will begin an inventory of leaseholders and their discharges into the bay, said Wolfsheimer and port spokesman Dan Wilkens.

“If we can trace the pollution back to the tenants, we can in fact threaten the cancellation of the lease,” Wilkens said, adding that port leases require companies to follow all laws. “That will get their attention.”

Toxic Waste Panel

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Wolfsheimer also announced the formation of a 21-member toxic- waste advisory committee to study pollution in the bay. He said the group--composed of environmentalists, prominent businessmen, water pollution regulators and scientists--is charged with making recommendations by the end of the year on how the port can curtail contamination.

Wolfsheimer’s announcement and the port’s new get-tough talk come a month after the state regional Water Quality Control Board made an unprecedented ruling that the port was just as responsible for a celebrated case of copper pollution in the bay as the company that mishandled the metal concentrate during storage and loading between mid-1985 and December, 1986, at the 24th Street Marine Terminal in National City.

The ruling put the port district on the same legal hook as the former tenant, Paco Terminals, for the copper cleanup, a job that one estimate puts at $180 million.

It also has port officials nervous that other waterfront tenants facing pollution fines, such as the boatyards off Shelter Island, will try to have the wealthy agency declared co-contributor to the contamination to help pay cleanup and punitive costs.

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In a press conference at Seaport Village, Wolfsheimer, who serves as chairman of the port commissioners, told reporters that the water board’s ruling helped prompt the new get-tough policy.

Disagrees With Finding

“I think it moved us to faster action,” Wolfsheimer said, adding that port officials “completely disagree” with the finding in the Paco case and “will fight that all the way.”

He said the apparent lack of progress by a number of public agencies studying pollution also led to the port’s decision to appoint the toxic waste advisory committee.

“I don’t see a lot happening,” Wolfsheimer said about the effort, which includes the regional board and the county health department. “I said, ‘Look, we ought to get a handle on this ourselves. People are pointing a finger at the port’ ” for the pollution.

Wolfsheimer said the port had not taken a stronger interest in bay pollution before because the agency lacked the technical expertise to detect the dangerous discharges, which include contaminants only recently discovered in “hot spots” around the waterway.

“When I moved to San Diego in 1962, I don’t think anybody heard of PCBs, tributyltin or copper concentration,” Wolfsheimer said, referring to some of the most persistent contaminants found in the bay.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made fluids that are highly toxic and carcinogenic; tributyltin, found in paint chips, is a highly effective biocide used in marine paints to keep algae and barnacles off boat bottoms.

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High on Port’s List

Although Wolfsheimer told reporters that he doesn’t “think the pollution is as widespread as some think it is,” he emphasized that cleaning up the bay is now as important to the port district as the success of the new, $160-million waterfront convention center.

“We deserve to spend as much time and energy cleaning up San Diego Bay as we have in building the convention center,” Wolfsheimer said.

Part of that effort will mean adding a new “toxics monitoring” division to keep an eye on port tenants because “no more toxics that endanger wildlife or our life should be permitted into the bay.”

“We have never had an investigation of tenants or a monitoring department to know what our tenants are doing,” he said.

Asked if the port would use its landlord powers to crack down on tenants that may be polluting the bay, Wolfsheimer said:

“The port has never been wimpish about enforcing its leases . . . but it has never had the technical expertise to know what’s going on in the industrial tenancies and what they’re contributing to the bay.”

Inventory to Begin

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Pending creation of such a monitoring department, Wolfsheimer said, port staff members will begin an inventory of the 400 industrial and manufacturing master leaseholders to see what is being dumped into the bay.

Wolfsheimer also said he hopes the newly appointed toxics advisory committee will hold its first meeting within the next two weeks and submit recommendations to the port commissioners before the end of the year.

Serving on the committee will be Wolfsheimer and two other port commissioners, Robert Penner and Milford W. Portwood, as well as County Supervisor Brian Bilbray and San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner.

Also serving will be attorney Richard Burt; Ladin Delaney, executive officer for the regional water board; Lee Grissom, president of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce; William Nelson, immediate past chairman of the chamber; San Diego City Planning Commissioner Al Kercheval; Donald Kent of the Sea World Research Institute; John Larson, vice president of the Recon environmental consulting firm; Pardee executive Mike Madigan; Joseph Martinez, principal of Martinez/Wong & Associates architects; James Mathewson of San Diego State University’s Center for Marine Studies; William Nierenberg of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Jay Powell of the Environmental Health Coalition; Manuel Silva, a member of the local fishing industry; Harold Simon of UC San Diego’s School of Medicine; John Sawicki of Marine Engineering, and Vernon Sukumu of the Black Federation.


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