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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

PG&E to Rehab San Francisco Harbor Due to Century-Old Pollution

The utility will fund a cleanup and restoration project at the Marina Small Craft Harbor following a 2001 lawsuit over contamination from factories used to create gas from coal over a century ago.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — After a decades-long legal battle, California utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to pay for the cleanup of a San Francisco yacht harbor polluted by manufactured gas plants operating in the Marina district at the turn of the 20th century.

PG&E will be responsible for up to $190 million of the Marina Small Craft Harbor project cost, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office said in a statement announcing the settlement. The city sued the utility in 2001 following the discovery of toxic chemicals in the soil at the East Harbor. 

“I’m pleased that PG&E is finally doing the right thing in this instance and paying to clean up its pollution,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate we had to take them to court and then negotiate for years to get this outcome. But at the end of the day, this settlement is going to benefit not only the residents of this area, but all San Franciscans by increasing opportunities for waterfront recreation.”

PG&E’s manufactured gas plants were highly polluting, low-tech refineries used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to create gas from coal. They often spread across several buildings covering several city blocks.

Its three San Francisco plants stood in North Beach, the Fillmore and on Beach Street. Their production process created considerable solid and gaseous toxic waste called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which leached into the ground, was dumped into waterways or buried onsite. 

PG&E settled a fishing group’s lawsuit related to residue from these plants in 2018, with PG&E agreeing to investigate, monitor and report levels of PAHs. The utility also vowed to create a cleanup plan for groundwater contamination and pay $4.2 million for water quality and environmental improvement projects.

This past November, a federal judge ruled the company must face a former Marina resident’s claims that a fourth plant called the Cannery continues to leak toxins into the groundwater and pollute the San Francisco Bay. That plant was located near San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square and Aquatic Park.

Herrera’s office said the Marina harbor project will involve replacing failing docks in the East Harbor and the creation of a public bay-front park. 

It still requires environmental review and regulatory approvals, and the settlement must be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department will oversee the work alongside PG&E, and will have to pay some of the cost of the project. But its portion will not exceed $29.4 million and will be repaid to the utility at zero percent interest over 30 years out of the revenue it collects from boat slips. Repayment will not begin until three years after the project is complete.

If the project cost comes in at or below $160 million, the city will repay PG&E only 9% of the total — up to $14.4 million — the district attorney said.

"Nothing is more important to PG&E than the safety of our customers, employees, contractors and the communities we serve,” PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said in an email. “As part of PG&E’s commitment to environmental responsibility and public safety, PG&E worked together with city departments and regulatory agencies to address our historical impacts as part of the city’s marina improvement project in the East Harbor. These ongoing discussions between PG&E and the city have identified key opportunities and a remedial approach that can reduce environmental and stakeholder impacts and enhance recreational amenities and public access for the community.”

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Categories / Energy, Environment, Regional

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