BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily newspaper editor
Deputy Mayor Pat Burt said yesterday he wanted to know how far a diesel spill in Palo Alto VA has moved downstream at Matadero Creek.
The spill occurred between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Thursday when a shut-off valve on a VA generator failed, according to a report from the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The AV said about 200 to 300 gallons came out of the generator, but some of that was captured in the building.
When the Palo Alto Fire Department was called at 2:24 p.m., firefighters learned that 75 gallons had spilled. A dispatcher told firefighters, “Just make sure the cleanup is OK.”
It was unclear yesterday why the VA waited three hours to call the fire department.
Workers put absorbent pads in the stream to soak up the diesel, followed by long, horizontal ramps.
The State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the office of the Spill Prevention and Response Unit took charge of the scene Thursday afternoon and a contractor was hired to clean up the creek.
“I’m afraid we don’t yet know how far this has gone,” Burt told the Post. âWe have no way of knowing. We, at this point, have to take it at face value that the AV knows how much it was, âBurt said.
But Burt expressed concern that there was no “double containment” or effort to place more dams further downstream. He also said he wanted to see a full plan of how the city and state would contain the spill.
Gary Kremen, who represents Palo Alto on the Water District Board of Directors, told the Post he suspected the spill could have been larger than the 200 to 300 gallons the VA said was discharged.
âWe’re not sure we have the full story yet,â Kremen said.
Kremen said he heard residents say they didn’t think the diesel had been fully cleaned. And he said the water district may soon send its own investigators to see what was left.
He added that if any residual fuel remains in the water, it could harm birds and other wildlife that use the stream.
Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, called the council meeting last night to tell town leaders that she was “horrified” to hear about the spill because the season Bird nesting and breeding is at present for other wildlife. She said these animals were already going through quite a difficult time because of the drought.
âTraces of diesel can persist and harm aquatic and riparian species for a very long time,â Kleinhaus said.
Noting that these types of spills take a long time to investigate, she added âtoo often offenders get slapped on the wristâ.
Kleinhaus has asked the city to stay informed of the investigations into this spill and to ensure that someone is fined for it.
Likewise, resident Winter Dellenbach, who lives in the nearby Barron Park neighborhood, told council “a toxic spill in a waterway is serious wherever it occurs.”
Dellenbach tested the waters herself for fuel by dropping a pot tied to a rope into the stream and bringing it back for inspection. What she recovered from the jar test was a distinct smell of fuel, first Sunday evening and again today at least 500 meters from where the upstream dams reportedly contained the spill.
âPalo Alto is not a city that takes toxic spills in its cove lightly,â Dellenbach said.
Dellenbach told council the spill could have made headlines sooner if the city did not encrypt police radios. Residents, instead of hearing about it from the media on Thursday, were told about the spill in an email Friday night from John King, head of the Barron Park Association.
Burt said he was concerned about the police department’s decision to encrypt his police radios, but said he was not sure this lack of communication was due to the encryption.
“I think that this type of information should have been immediately accessible to the public, whether from a scanner or from the fire brigade or the police services by immediately communicating it to the press and immediately communicating it to the inhabitants of the neighborhood. through various forms of communication which we did, âsaid Burt.
It was unclear why the city had not informed residents of the spill yesterday. A city spokeswoman did not respond to an email with this question.
City manager Ed Shikada told council last night he reached out to MP Anna Eshoo and Assemblyman Marc Berman about the spill to find out what kind of help the state and federal government can provide. Shikada said the city discovered the VA spill three hours after it occurred. He said the fire department, state and federal government would be involved in the investigation and the cleanup.