Sweetwater Union High School District students return to campus July 25. Some people might wonder what the district has done with the 10,000 tons of dirt on the Southwest High campus, reported on by Channel 10 and the Reader in June. The short answer is — the district is still investigating.
According to the district, the dirt was moved to the Southwest High campus sometime in the spring of 2010. Where the dirt originated and who authorized it to be dumped there is still under investigation.
At a Sweetwater Bond Oversight Committee meeting on July 12, district representatives Dianne Russo and Paul Woods tried to respond to questions about the sequence of events from committee members.
In May 2012, the district paid $15,000 to have the dirt tested. According to Russo, the test results showed minimal levels of toxic substances. However, after the district received the testing results, the San Diego office of the California Water Quality Control Board told the district to get rid of the dirt within 90 days or pay fines.
Paul Woods told the committee that the Department of Toxic Substance Control asked the district why they were looking at the dirt. Woods said he was not certain that the department would put that in writing.
In the meantime, the district ordered the dirt to be removed for approximately $490,000.
Russo told the oversight committee, “We are still investigating. We found out after two days of work [removing the dirt] that the dirt is just dirt…it’s not contaminated. In fact, the report says if we want to redistribute the dirt on the campus, we can; but if we want to take the dirt and remove it from the campus, it has to go to a regulated landfill. So, we believe the price we’re paying to remove the dirt is too expensive. We’re having Otay landfill do some more testing and if that shows what the new proposal says, it is saving the district $250,000, so we’re willing to wait the two weeks to get that work done…but we’re still investigating.”
Members of the committee expressed frustration with the report and with the district’s process.
Member Bernardo Vasquez asked Russo and Woods, “Did we pay the full $15,000 for test results?” Russo answered “yes” and stated that the report showed no measurable results of toxins.
Member Kevin O’Neill asked, “Then how did it escalate to a purchase order of $500,000 for removing the dirt?”
Vasquez suggested that some steps had been missed in the process.
O’Neill expressed unhappiness that when he requested to see the test reports he was told to put in a public records request.
He also commented, “There’s no way the district is going to win on this. You're going to have egg on your face for jumping ahead and spending money that didn't need to be spent, allowing the dirt to be brought in without any documentation — you cannot win on how you handled things from the beginning to the end."
Russo did not return multiple phone calls Friday, July 13.