Mission Bay back in the day
The land SeaWorld sits on is a toxic wasteland and the City of San Diego or the California Coastal Commission is ignoring this, says a January 4 lawsuit from a group calling itself Save Everyone's Access. The suit says expansion of the theme park’s orca facility will release toxins into the environment.
By filing the lawsuit, the group hopes to halt construction of the Blue World Project, a proposal to build new a 50-foot-deep, 1.5-acre-wide, ten-million-gallon tank to house its killer whales. The park also plans to build a 40-foot below-grade viewing area for visitors.
SeaWorld has looked to expand its orca facilities for some time. The park, however, has experienced an attendance drop-off since the release of Blackfish, a documentary that called attention to the controversy of confining killer whales.
In 2014, as the backlash from Blackfish subsided, SeaWorld released plans to expand the tanks and continue its "legacy of leading-edge animal environment design."
“[T]he enlarged environment will provide killer whales with even more dynamic opportunities. It will support the whales’ broad range of behaviors and provide choices that can challenge the whales both physically and mentally. Among other things, it is planned to include a 'fast water current' that allows whales to swim against moving water, thus functionally increasing speed and diversity. Innovative features focused on husbandry and animal care will offer SeaWorld’s animal health professionals and independent scientists unique access to the whales that can lead to a better understanding and care of the animals both in the parks and in the wild."
While the park trumpets the project as a state-of-the-art home for the orcas, members of Save Everyone's Access say park representatives, elected officials, and commissioners are trying to bury the fact that the new tank would be built on an unprotected toxic dump site in the Mission Bay.
The area surrounding Fiesta Island and South Mission Bay was used as a city landfill in the 1950s. Besides refuse from San Diegans, industrial waste from local aircraft and aerospace manufacturers was also dumped in the bay. The industrial waste was stored in metal containers and buried. According to the lawsuit, the toxins inside the containers and the methane created from the landfill are seeping into the bay and atmosphere.
"The toxic waste has never been removed or remediated," reads the writ of mandate. "The city and Sea World know about the history of toxic waste disposal in the South [Mission Bay] area. The city and Sea World also know that the South Shores area produces subterranean methane and hydrogen sulfide gasses, some of which escapes into the atmosphere while some of the gasses concentrate in pockets beneath the surface. The landfill is not lined on the sides or bottom to prevent migration of toxic waste. The South Shores area, where not covered with hardscape, has a permeable earthen cap of approximately 15 feet in depth."
If allowed to proceed with the Blue World Project, says the group, remnants of those heavy metals as well as methane and other gases will be released into the water and the air.
"The excavation will cause the release of toxic waste into Mission Bay. There is no plan for testing, treating, or removing the contaminated soils. [Save Everyone's Access] has an interest in preventing further contamination of ground water subject to tidal flushing. [Save Everyone's Access] also has an interest in seeing to it that the Project does not pose a threat to...members of the public through releases or combustion of toxic or volatile gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide."
Because of the dangers underneath the surface, the group is asking a judge to order the park to study the potential environmental impacts before it begins construction.
According to the lawsuit, the city has allowed the park to use a 2002 environmental study that fails to address the actual scope and size of the tank and completely ignores the underground toxins.