Scott Marks 4:26 p.m., May 21
Almost as soon as the first of the buried underground pipe was being uncovered at the old Encanto Gas Holder facility, the complaints started coming in about the noise and dust.
The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) first received complaints from residents in Lemon Grove and Encanto (Southeast San Diego) in early September, even before Sempra Energy sent out its September 25 advisory to everyone within 1000 feet of the facility fenceline. In that letter, residents were advised that this might be the first time they heard about the project, as previous letters went out only in a 500-foot radius.
On September 25, 2000, a new machine appeared at the site, a 600-rpm pipe-spinning coating stripper that handled the unearthed 30-inch pipe cut into lengths of 40 feet or so. Around this time, the subcontractor that was manually stripping around the pipe in foot-wide swaths with hammer and chisel, so that the pipe could be cut and lifted out of trenches, was given a new job: strip all of the pipe of its entire coating, so that another subcontractor could get the bare pipe as salvage.
The 600-rpm pipe stripper was not the best tool for the job. It overheated in half an hour's work, forcing it to be shut down repeatedly, and slowing the process of pipe recovery for salvage. The four cutting blades wore down, so that instead of neatly stripping the coating off in segments, the coating was burned off by friction, turning the tar-matrix asbestos-embedded substance into a waste residue, measuring in size from chucks the size of a pack of cigarettes down to a fine white powder that was tossed a shovel full at a time into open dumpsters.
In the neighborhood, we thought that the odor coming from the site was burning petroleum products.
We were partly right, but mostly wrong. It was really the airborne residue from the mechanical pipe stripping processes going on inside the locked chainlink fence. The fence stayed locked for years with 24-hour security, even after there was supposedly nothing left to guard, well after the entire site was supposedly cleared of every trace of the old gas holder facility.
Back on the lot, someone got the bright idea of cutting a 30-inch half-circle into a length of metal and using it on a dozer as a pipe stripper. Somebody else took to using the business end of the steel forks on a forklift to bash the coating off a little at a time.
In the meantime, the neighbors in Encanto and Lemon Grove were taking notes, taking pictures and video, and turning in complaints to APCD.
In March 2001, the first storm water discharge violation notice was issued by the Regional Water Quality Control District for the "SEMPRA ENCANTO GAS HOLDER".
By April 2001, the County Department of Environmental Health was also investigating along with APCD inspectors, and SDG&E was busy writing rebuttal letters to inspector claims that the lot was littered with friable asbestos debris, so much debris that one worker testified at least three days were spent picking up handfulls of pipe stripping debris at a time to keep heavy construction vehicles from running over it and turning it into a fine powdery dust.
By this time, it was hard to find an environmental enforcement agency in the entire state that hadn't heard of the debris at the old Encanto Gas Holder site or flowing into Chollas Creek, but SDG&E was still hopeful...