Toxic pollution in Roseland a big concern for Santa Rosa in annexation

If Santa Rosa annexes Roseland, a long-planned move it could advance this week, the city will inherit a vibrant neighborhood with a high Latino population, an acute shortage of parkland and a long list of needed infrastructure upgrades.

It also will bring into its borders some seriously contaminated properties.

Roseland has one of the highest concentrations in the city of industrial and commercial properties with soil and groundwater contaminated by toxic substances such as gasoline, diesel and chemical solvents.

Leaking underground gas station tanks, motor oil from salvage yards, and chemicals dumped down the drain by dry cleaning businesses have all made Roseland a hot spot for environmental clean-up efforts over recent decades. In 1982, gasoline fumes seeped into Roseland Elementary School, forcing its closure. A few years later, an underground diesel fuel leak threatened the well water supplies of 2,200 residents.

And in 1992, Sam’s For Play Cafe had to be evacuated because gas fumes backed up through the sewer — the consequence of a rising water table pushing the petroleum products upward. Concentration levels got so high in some places that officials, fearing explosions, declared a state of emergency.

The issue was so serious that the Sebastopol Road and McMinn Avenue area was listed as a Superfund site until 1994.

Roseland is far from alone in dealing with a legacy of toxic materials. Matt St. John, executive officer of the North Coast Water Quality Control Board, didn’t have the number of open cases in other parts of Santa Rosa handy, but downtown Santa Rosa has contaminated sites that stretch back a century.

Roseland’s issues shouldn’t scare city officials away from annexation efforts, St. John said.

“The city will not be incurring addition financial responsibility for these clean ups,” St. John said.

Today, the problem is less acute because of decades of cleanup work and because most Roseland residents have since hooked up to the city water system. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still a problem

In Roseland alone, not including the four smaller annexations areas, there are 49 sites that water quality regulators have identified for cleanup, according to the North Coast Water Quality Control Board.

Of those, 36 have been closed, meaning the pollution has been brought under control well enough to meet the required safety standards for that type of property.

That does not mean the properties are clean, however, since contaminated soils are often allowed to remain in place if they are not considered a danger to groundwater.

Thirteen properties remain open cases that regulators are trying to get cleaned up, but it could be years or decades before that is accomplished, said St. John.

The city has budgeted for an additional fire inspector to deal with the additional workload of overseeing work on contaminated Roseland properties, said Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal.

The costs of city road and sewer projects go up…

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