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Pt. Loma activists skeptical of methane gas

How will trucks deal with Talbot Street?

If ever a scheme needs a good euphemism, it’s the Beneficial Use of Digester Gas. Nevertheless, the plan passed its first smell test. The City presented it to the local planning board at its July 19, 2007 meeting, explaining the venture as another way for San Diego to capitalize on renewable energy. The undertaking calls for a private company to truck compressed methane gas from the wastewater plant at Point Loma to remote sites, where “ultra clean” fuel cells can burn the gas to produce electricity. One fuel cell will be located near the City’s South Bay Water Reclamation Plant, where the power can be used. Qualcomm Stadium, UCSD, and the San Diego Zoo have also been identified as potential users of the energy.

The Point Loma treatment plant uses an anaerobic digestion process to break down biodegradable material that’s removed from sewage before sending it out to sea. In the oxygen-free interior of digester tanks, microorganisms go to work on sludge. A by-product of the process is methane gas. Small portions of the gas are used in Caterpillar engines on-site to produce electricity to run the plant. But according to the City, “the plant generally produces between one to two million standard cubic feet…per day of excess digester gas, which is 63 percent methane. This excess gas is flared by [the plant] in low emission, temperature controlled, state of the art gas flares.” Flaring the methane produces a significant amount of greenhouse gas.

Instead, Linde Merchant Production, Inc., will lease approximately 31,000 square feet at the plant’s southern end. The company will build a facility where impurities can be removed from the methane, which can then be pumped into long cylinders and loaded onto trucks. From there, the trucks must first head south on Gatchell Road and negotiate a sharp switchback onto Cabrillo Road. They are then to enter the Cabrillo National Monument before joining Cabrillo Memorial Drive, which becomes Catalina Boulevard heading north. The trucks will turn right onto Canon Street and snake down the hill to Rosecrans Street. There they find a straight shot to Interstates 5 and 8. An alternate plan has the trucks turning from Catalina onto Chatsworth Boulevard to Lytton Street for an eventual left turn onto Rosecrans. There will be six round-trips a day.

The City will even make money from the private firm’s purchase of the gas. The plan, according to the City, will also lower the creation of carbon dioxide in “fossil fuel power plants by over 7000 tons per year.” It will produce 3.9 megawatts of renewable energy. The City’s goal is to install “50 kilowatts of renewable electricity generation by 2013.…”

Members of the Peninsula Community Planning Board were impressed. During the 2007 board meeting, Metropolitan Wastewater Department and Linde officials asked the planners to devote their facilities subcommittee to assisting “with issues of transport, routes, safety, etc.” The board chose Katheryn Rhodes, a civil engineer, to chair the subcommittee. In return, Wastewater promised to return periodically with Linde officials for updates and elaboration of the program. But within 12 days, and without an update, the digester-gas plan appeared as a “consent” item at a city council meeting. The consent agenda consists of routine items not requiring discussion. Citizens can request the council to discuss consent motions, and that’s what Rhodes did. On September 4, 2007, in a unanimous vote, the council authorized the City to carry out the plan.

I ask Rhodes, who no longer serves on the board, if she wanted to give the council information on the safety of trucking methane gas through residential neighborhoods. “No,” said Rhodes, who has often testified before the council on downtown earthquake issues. “I have no expertise in gas safety. I only wanted to hold Wastewater to their promise to keep us informed. After the council meeting, they did come back several times, and I have to say, they made a very sophisticated case. There were always numerous presenters. I left the safety issues to Mr. Gilhooly,” who is not a planning board member but was asked to join the subcommittee because of his background.

Jim Gilhooly, who is critical of the project, is a retired construction engineer with 40 years of experience at petroleum facilities and managing the building of several nuclear power plants. He also worked as head of quality control during construction of the San Onofre nuclear plant. His insistent questioning of presenters appears to have irritated some members of the Peninsula planning board. From conversations with several of them, I get the impression they think of him as a crank. They say the board unanimously supports the project. One of them told me, on condition of anonymity, that Gilhooly objects to every project that comes before the board.

But Gilhooly tells me he has objected only to Beneficial Use of Digester Gas and a plan by the Navy to truck heavy equipment through the peninsula for construction of new fuel tanks at the Naval Base Point Loma. “It’s very densely populated out here,” he says, “and these projects are 2 of 10 to 15 that are new or just beginning and, in the next few years, will cripple our traffic.”

To hear what the City is telling the public, I act as a private citizen and call Tom Asplaugh, a mechanical engineer at Wastewater. Asplaugh is the department’s point man for the gas-transport project. He tells me that the trucks will make their six trips per day in the middle of the night or early morning, before most drivers are on their way to work. The Peninsula planners helped ensure that the routes avoided schools.

What about the trucks? Asplaugh says the U.S. Department of Transportation has certified them as exceedingly safe, and they have a perfect track record. The cylinders that hold the gas, he says, are similar to those used currently by city buses. But when loaded to capacity, the trucks will weigh 38 tons. “No loads that heavy have ever been driven on Point Loma streets,” says Gilhooly, “not to mention six trips per day.”

Gilhooly found on Talbot Street and several other roads nearby a sign forbidding trucks over five tons, according to a standard “gross vehicle rated capacity.” At meetings of the planning board through this past April, he pressed gas-transport presenters to state the gross vehicle capacity of streets such as Catalina and Chatsworth. “They gave no answer,” he says. “When I asked them to name places where their trucks have operated safely, they cited major highways in Nevada. Well, Point Loma neighborhoods are quite a different matter.”

Cynthia Conger is a local real estate agent and former planning board member. She sides with Gilhooly. “I was representing a house on the market whose sewer backed up,” Conger tells me by phone. “Our pipes out here are so old, the water went into the house next door. So imagine what those trucks mean for our roads and the pipes underneath them. There’s no comparison of their effects on the open highway to what they’ll do here.”

The difference is the thick concrete that engineers use to build freeways versus the thinner and weaker asphalt of city streets, says Gilhooly. But the City says the trucks’ 18 wheels distribute the weight. “It doesn’t matter,” says Gilhooly. “Big garbage and other trucks already cause street vibrations that are breaking the pipes below.” He reminds me of a recent breakage at Rosecrans and Nimitz Boulevard. It caused a major tie-up of the intersection.

Let’s come back to safety. Suppose one of the tank trucks gets into an accident or hits a sinkhole on a Point Loma street. “Somebody at one of those meetings,” says Gilhooly, “stated that if a gas tube sprang a leak, the methane would go straight up in the air. Not at 2400 pounds per square inch it won’t. That’s the pressure the methane will be under in those tubes. Pressure in the city-bus tanks is only 2.5 pounds. At 2400, the gas is going in whatever direction the opening points. Someone close enough could be asphyxiated because the methane would suddenly suck all the oxygen out of the air. And if there’s a spark around, look out.

“Before the gas leaves the Point Loma treatment plant,” according to Gilhooly, “equipment will increase the purity of the methane from 63 to over 90 percent. So it’s basically natural gas. You remember what happened at a downtown hotel last year when that natural gas explosion occurred. With this project out here, the City doesn’t even have a disaster management plan. Remember, there are no hospitals in Point Loma. And they’ve got an exemption from having to do an environmental impact report. They say it’s because the gas transport is technically not ‘a project.’ ” (The ordinance that went before the city council said that “this activity is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act…because [it] does not have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment.”)

Gilhooly has been arguing that, instead of trucking methane out of Point Loma, fuel cells should be built at the treatment plant to send electricity out. Last year, he asked the Navy if it was interested in receiving power from the plant and showed me a reply letter he’d received from Captain M.D. Patton, commanding officer of Naval Base Point Loma. On April 2, 2008, Patton wrote: “I…noted your suggestion of in-situ development of methane reuse and fuel cell technology as an alternative to transportation of the methane to a secondary market. We have also looked into that idea, but the City has been unwilling to enter into a long-term agreement (10 years or more) that would make our necessary investment worthwhile.”

In its written report to the city council, the wastewater department said only that “due to a number of constraints, [the] renewable fuel can not be economically used at the [Point Loma treatment facility], the main reason being that the plant’s SDG&E power line is at its maximum rated export capacity.”

According to the City’s Tom Asplaugh, Beneficial Use of Digester Gas is about to enter the permitting process. Construction will start at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant in January 2010, and trucks will start transporting methane approximately a year later.

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If ever a scheme needs a good euphemism, it’s the Beneficial Use of Digester Gas. Nevertheless, the plan passed its first smell test. The City presented it to the local planning board at its July 19, 2007 meeting, explaining the venture as another way for San Diego to capitalize on renewable energy. The undertaking calls for a private company to truck compressed methane gas from the wastewater plant at Point Loma to remote sites, where “ultra clean” fuel cells can burn the gas to produce electricity. One fuel cell will be located near the City’s South Bay Water Reclamation Plant, where the power can be used. Qualcomm Stadium, UCSD, and the San Diego Zoo have also been identified as potential users of the energy.

The Point Loma treatment plant uses an anaerobic digestion process to break down biodegradable material that’s removed from sewage before sending it out to sea. In the oxygen-free interior of digester tanks, microorganisms go to work on sludge. A by-product of the process is methane gas. Small portions of the gas are used in Caterpillar engines on-site to produce electricity to run the plant. But according to the City, “the plant generally produces between one to two million standard cubic feet…per day of excess digester gas, which is 63 percent methane. This excess gas is flared by [the plant] in low emission, temperature controlled, state of the art gas flares.” Flaring the methane produces a significant amount of greenhouse gas.

Instead, Linde Merchant Production, Inc., will lease approximately 31,000 square feet at the plant’s southern end. The company will build a facility where impurities can be removed from the methane, which can then be pumped into long cylinders and loaded onto trucks. From there, the trucks must first head south on Gatchell Road and negotiate a sharp switchback onto Cabrillo Road. They are then to enter the Cabrillo National Monument before joining Cabrillo Memorial Drive, which becomes Catalina Boulevard heading north. The trucks will turn right onto Canon Street and snake down the hill to Rosecrans Street. There they find a straight shot to Interstates 5 and 8. An alternate plan has the trucks turning from Catalina onto Chatsworth Boulevard to Lytton Street for an eventual left turn onto Rosecrans. There will be six round-trips a day.

The City will even make money from the private firm’s purchase of the gas. The plan, according to the City, will also lower the creation of carbon dioxide in “fossil fuel power plants by over 7000 tons per year.” It will produce 3.9 megawatts of renewable energy. The City’s goal is to install “50 kilowatts of renewable electricity generation by 2013.…”

Members of the Peninsula Community Planning Board were impressed. During the 2007 board meeting, Metropolitan Wastewater Department and Linde officials asked the planners to devote their facilities subcommittee to assisting “with issues of transport, routes, safety, etc.” The board chose Katheryn Rhodes, a civil engineer, to chair the subcommittee. In return, Wastewater promised to return periodically with Linde officials for updates and elaboration of the program. But within 12 days, and without an update, the digester-gas plan appeared as a “consent” item at a city council meeting. The consent agenda consists of routine items not requiring discussion. Citizens can request the council to discuss consent motions, and that’s what Rhodes did. On September 4, 2007, in a unanimous vote, the council authorized the City to carry out the plan.

I ask Rhodes, who no longer serves on the board, if she wanted to give the council information on the safety of trucking methane gas through residential neighborhoods. “No,” said Rhodes, who has often testified before the council on downtown earthquake issues. “I have no expertise in gas safety. I only wanted to hold Wastewater to their promise to keep us informed. After the council meeting, they did come back several times, and I have to say, they made a very sophisticated case. There were always numerous presenters. I left the safety issues to Mr. Gilhooly,” who is not a planning board member but was asked to join the subcommittee because of his background.

Jim Gilhooly, who is critical of the project, is a retired construction engineer with 40 years of experience at petroleum facilities and managing the building of several nuclear power plants. He also worked as head of quality control during construction of the San Onofre nuclear plant. His insistent questioning of presenters appears to have irritated some members of the Peninsula planning board. From conversations with several of them, I get the impression they think of him as a crank. They say the board unanimously supports the project. One of them told me, on condition of anonymity, that Gilhooly objects to every project that comes before the board.

But Gilhooly tells me he has objected only to Beneficial Use of Digester Gas and a plan by the Navy to truck heavy equipment through the peninsula for construction of new fuel tanks at the Naval Base Point Loma. “It’s very densely populated out here,” he says, “and these projects are 2 of 10 to 15 that are new or just beginning and, in the next few years, will cripple our traffic.”

To hear what the City is telling the public, I act as a private citizen and call Tom Asplaugh, a mechanical engineer at Wastewater. Asplaugh is the department’s point man for the gas-transport project. He tells me that the trucks will make their six trips per day in the middle of the night or early morning, before most drivers are on their way to work. The Peninsula planners helped ensure that the routes avoided schools.

What about the trucks? Asplaugh says the U.S. Department of Transportation has certified them as exceedingly safe, and they have a perfect track record. The cylinders that hold the gas, he says, are similar to those used currently by city buses. But when loaded to capacity, the trucks will weigh 38 tons. “No loads that heavy have ever been driven on Point Loma streets,” says Gilhooly, “not to mention six trips per day.”

Gilhooly found on Talbot Street and several other roads nearby a sign forbidding trucks over five tons, according to a standard “gross vehicle rated capacity.” At meetings of the planning board through this past April, he pressed gas-transport presenters to state the gross vehicle capacity of streets such as Catalina and Chatsworth. “They gave no answer,” he says. “When I asked them to name places where their trucks have operated safely, they cited major highways in Nevada. Well, Point Loma neighborhoods are quite a different matter.”

Cynthia Conger is a local real estate agent and former planning board member. She sides with Gilhooly. “I was representing a house on the market whose sewer backed up,” Conger tells me by phone. “Our pipes out here are so old, the water went into the house next door. So imagine what those trucks mean for our roads and the pipes underneath them. There’s no comparison of their effects on the open highway to what they’ll do here.”

The difference is the thick concrete that engineers use to build freeways versus the thinner and weaker asphalt of city streets, says Gilhooly. But the City says the trucks’ 18 wheels distribute the weight. “It doesn’t matter,” says Gilhooly. “Big garbage and other trucks already cause street vibrations that are breaking the pipes below.” He reminds me of a recent breakage at Rosecrans and Nimitz Boulevard. It caused a major tie-up of the intersection.

Let’s come back to safety. Suppose one of the tank trucks gets into an accident or hits a sinkhole on a Point Loma street. “Somebody at one of those meetings,” says Gilhooly, “stated that if a gas tube sprang a leak, the methane would go straight up in the air. Not at 2400 pounds per square inch it won’t. That’s the pressure the methane will be under in those tubes. Pressure in the city-bus tanks is only 2.5 pounds. At 2400, the gas is going in whatever direction the opening points. Someone close enough could be asphyxiated because the methane would suddenly suck all the oxygen out of the air. And if there’s a spark around, look out.

“Before the gas leaves the Point Loma treatment plant,” according to Gilhooly, “equipment will increase the purity of the methane from 63 to over 90 percent. So it’s basically natural gas. You remember what happened at a downtown hotel last year when that natural gas explosion occurred. With this project out here, the City doesn’t even have a disaster management plan. Remember, there are no hospitals in Point Loma. And they’ve got an exemption from having to do an environmental impact report. They say it’s because the gas transport is technically not ‘a project.’ ” (The ordinance that went before the city council said that “this activity is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act…because [it] does not have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment.”)

Gilhooly has been arguing that, instead of trucking methane out of Point Loma, fuel cells should be built at the treatment plant to send electricity out. Last year, he asked the Navy if it was interested in receiving power from the plant and showed me a reply letter he’d received from Captain M.D. Patton, commanding officer of Naval Base Point Loma. On April 2, 2008, Patton wrote: “I…noted your suggestion of in-situ development of methane reuse and fuel cell technology as an alternative to transportation of the methane to a secondary market. We have also looked into that idea, but the City has been unwilling to enter into a long-term agreement (10 years or more) that would make our necessary investment worthwhile.”

In its written report to the city council, the wastewater department said only that “due to a number of constraints, [the] renewable fuel can not be economically used at the [Point Loma treatment facility], the main reason being that the plant’s SDG&E power line is at its maximum rated export capacity.”

According to the City’s Tom Asplaugh, Beneficial Use of Digester Gas is about to enter the permitting process. Construction will start at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant in January 2010, and trucks will start transporting methane approximately a year later.

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Comments
6

Seems simple, forget the road. Build two gas tank barges, A single methane powered tug. Have the tug swap the methane tank barges each day to some convenient head end in SD Bay. All along our major internal river system this is the first idea of moving cargo.

June 11, 2009

Haul some generators in with the barges, and send power out to the grid. Pretty simple, huh? As to the Navy building tanks, get out of the way. They could take your Point Loma mansions if they want to.

June 13, 2009

I would like to comment on what the current members of the Peninsula Planning Board said about Jim Gilhooley. I was the Chair of the Board when this was being discussed. I know Jim and he is not a crackpot and he does not object to everything. He has two issues he has focused on since I've known him, the fuel tank construction on the submarine base and the methane gas project. Jim is intelligent, experienced, and informed. He has no personal agenda regarding these projects. He genuinely cares about the effects of these projects on Pt. Loma. The current members of the Peninsula Community Planning Board don't have, collectively, one hundredth of the intelligence and committment that Jim Gilhooley does. The comments the current Board members offered about Jim illustrate their level of intelligent discussion. I urge everyone to listen to Jim and don't be fooled by the crew that is currently sitting on the PCPB.

June 16, 2009

Has anyone done a study on what the kill zone would be if one of those trucks exploded in a residential neighborhood? I would think at least a couple of blocks in each direction, I wonder how many people sitting on the pt loma board live on the route that is proposed? Alsohow many free lunches they went to? paid by the company in question. It seems to me the trucks that they are going to use are HUGE can they even make it thru the narrow streets? If so can we see a trial run by one of those trucks ( unloaded of course )

June 23, 2009

A 5 of 6 yr. Chair of Peninsula Community Planning Board (PCPB), I agree with Mr. Page-ignore half the present board’s “views.’ Examine PCPB 'goals' when public attendance’s dwindled from few to 2 the past 6 mos! When the Chair, ‘admits’ he "knows little about what goes on in the Peninsula" misses 2 consecutive regular meetings, leaving citizens, at one, 'sitting on the library steps' by his carelessness? Another admits repeatedly "he's a consultant for McMillin,", but denies such at election time! Jim Gilhooly's knowledge & experience, as those of so many Peninsula 'experts' are ignored by this board, regularly. "Health, Safety & Welfare" is second to 'special interest profits' -read the pcpb.net minutes (usually mos. behind-leaving the public uninformed). Notice 1/2 the 'committees' meet sparsely or not at all, in 3 yrs! The 25% increase of Airport Gates (at $10,000/sq. ft. a neighbor tallied!) as depicted in "Denstination Lindbergh's" EIR, ‘neglected to mention' risks and cumulative impacts of increased aircraft operations on our property values, our children's hearing or our health (pollution)! Will Technical Advisory ‘committee meeting’ dates be circulated (ATAG) where we Can influence the City's ‘negotiations’ on the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUC) concerning our Safety & Quality of Life –starting in '10? Prepare by Listening to san.org’s "Urban Airport's ALUC audio tapes"! In the middle of several potentially catastrophic accident hazards (beside Wastewater Treatment Plant's growing natural Methane Gas!), with only 3 major access paths to a hospital for 80,000 residents, students, tourists, business and military workers, watch PCPB 'push forward' for the dangerous 'shrinking' of Harbor Drive with a 'quiet sale of public land' for Port profits-another little-used 'pay parking lot'-while the community/business’s ‘free’ 100 pkg. spaces are removed! As Naval Training Center’s (NTC) barely 1/2 to 2/3 'occupied', our major traffic and parking problem predictions are now obvious. And the 'present board’s’'traffic and parking negotiations', "Annual Monitoring, Mitigation and Reporting Program," promised in writing to our community at NTC? Still not initiated? Nor the Navy's 'significant shuttles', Beacon reported, in 6/7/01 by a past Chair? A board member 'honestly reported' in Sept.- "CA Law recently mandated SDG&E increase renewable energy sources by 25%-the reason for 'change’ on the Methane Gas Trucks! Only the City's 'budget' gives our community review time (til 2010-11?) for an 'updated' Community Plan. Present Board members already work 'with the City' in ‘conflicted’ capacities? Watch for increased/unwanted Density, missing parking and infrastructure as in other SD Redevelopment areas where property taxes are diverted to developers. Wake Up Peninsula Residents, "follow the money," as your future is at stake, and that of your children. Elections for PCPB occur in March. Candidates who care can apply now!

Sept. 27, 2009

A 5 of 6 yr. Chair of Peninsula Community Planning Board (PCPB), I agree with Mr. Page-ignore half the present board’s “views.’ Examine PCPB 'goals' when public attendance’s dwindled from few to 2 the past 6 mos! When the Chair, ‘admits’ he "knows little about what goes on in the Peninsula" misses 2 consecutive regular meetings, leaving citizens, at one, 'sitting on the library steps' by his carelessness? Another admits repeatedly "he's a consultant for McMillin,", but denies such at election time! Jim Gilhooly's knowledge & experience, as those of so many Peninsula 'experts' are ignored by this board, regularly. "Health, Safety & Welfare" is second to 'special interest profits' -read the pcpb.net minutes (usually mos. behind-leaving the public uninformed). Notice 1/2 the 'committees' meet sparsely or not at all, in 3 yrs! The 25% increase of Airport Gates (at $10,000/sq. ft. a neighbor tallied!) as depicted in "Denstination Lindbergh's" EIR, ‘neglected to mention' risks and cumulative impacts of increased aircraft operations on our property values, our children's hearing or our health (pollution)! Will Technical Advisory ‘committee meeting’ dates be circulated (ATAG) where we Can influence the City's ‘negotiations’ on the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUC) concerning our Safety & Quality of Life –starting in '10? Prepare by Listening to san.org’s "Urban Airport's ALUC audio tapes"! In the middle of several potentially catastrophic accident hazards (beside Wastewater Treatment Plant's growing natural Methane Gas!), with only 3 major access paths to a hospital for 80,000 residents, students, tourists, business and military workers, watch PCPB 'push forward' for the dangerous 'shrinking' of Harbor Drive with a 'quiet sale of public land' for Port profits-another little-used 'pay parking lot'-while the community/business’s ‘free’ 100 pkg. spaces are removed! As Naval Training Center’s (NTC) barely 1/2 to 2/3 'occupied', our major traffic and parking problem predictions are now obvious. And the present board’s'traffic and parking negotiations'in an "Annual Monitoring, Mitigation and Reporting Program," promised in writing to our community at NTC? Still not initiated? Nor the Navy's 'significant shuttles'-Beacon reported, in 6/7/01 by a past Chair? One board member 'honestly reported' in Sept.- "CA Law recently mandated SDG&E increase renewable energy sources by 25%-the reason for 'change’ on the Methane Gas Trucks! Only the City's 'budget' gives our community review time (til 2010-11?) for an 'updated' Community Plan. Present Board members already work 'with the City' in ‘conflicted’ capacities? Beware increased/unwanted Density, missing parking and infrastructure as in other SD Redevelopment areas where property taxes are diverted to developers. Wake Up Peninsula Residents, "follow the money," as your future is at stake, and that of your children. Elections for PCPB occur in March. Candidates who care can apply now!

Sept. 27, 2009

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