A report that recommends a buffer zone between an agricultural fumigant storage facility and a proposed development was scrutinized by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 4, with one supervisor blasting it as being politically motivated.
Voters in November will consider a master plan for the 2,777-acre Strada Verde Innovation Park, which would consist of automotive testing facilities, an e-commerce center, a park and other features located between highways 25 and 101.
But its proximity to TriCal, Inc.’s chemical storage and blending facility on Highway 25 prompted the county-commissioned report by EMC Planning Group and Dr. Ranajit Sahu titled “Offsite Consequences Analysis and Hazards Buffer Report for TriCal, Inc.” The July 9 report analyzed “worst-case” scenarios and determined that Strada Verde would need to be built at least 3.5 miles away from the TriCal facility. However, as the report points out, the entire proposal lies within the recommended buffer zone.
The report determined that an unexpected release of chemicals in the air from the facility, whether by system failure, human error, act of terrorism or other cause, could create a hazardous zone of roughly six miles surrounding TriCal. According to maps presented in the report, that zone extends into the southern portion of Gilroy and the northern tip of Hollister.
Before Michael Groves of EMC Planning Group and Sahu gave the presentation on the report, Supervisor Anthony Botelho, who represents the district where the project is proposed, lambasted it as “critically flawed and biased.”
“The report was rushed with the intention to leak false information and confuse the voters in the coming election,” he said.
Botelho suggested that county Resource Management Agency Director Harry Mavrogenes was “prejudiced” against Strada Verde, and hired a consulting group that has worked with environmental groups in the past in order to create a “hazard report that met a predetermined outcome.”
He questioned the timing of the report, saying it was due in 2019.
“How miraculously that it appears the same week the Strada Verde initiative is being placed on the ballot,” Botelho said.
Botelho also criticized District 2 supervisorial candidate Kollin Kosmicki, who posted the executive summary of the report on his campaign website before the county released it to the public.
“Unfortunately or purposely, a confidential document was given to a supervisorial candidate and he knowingly publicized the confidential report that could lead to serious consequences for the county,” he said.
After Botelho’s statement, Groves and Sahu began their presentation, with the pair responding to the supervisor’s claims throughout the meeting.
“I had no idea what the outcome would be until the modeling was done and until we looked at the different sensitivities,” Sahu said. “To suggest otherwise is a falsehood and frankly, inappropriate. The report does not present any false information. You might disagree with an assumption that we made and I’m happy to discuss it and defend it. But to claim that it contains false information is inappropriate and simply wrong.”
Groves also responded by saying the county commissioned EMC Planning Group in January 2020, not a year ago as Botelho said.
“I don’t want any miscommunication that we were hired in 2019,” he said. “We were hired in 2020. The report did take a couple months longer to prepare than was expected, mostly because we were under non-disclosure agreements with the county and TriCal on certain subject matters.”
TriCal President Paul Niday said the company has operated safely in San Benito County for 40 years.
“The recently released report is not an accurate portrayal of our business or our operations,” he said. “The report contains many comments, examples and a modeling methodology that are not applicable to our operations.”
Hollister resident Mia Casey said the release of the report could aid terrorists looking for a target near the Bay Area.
“The report gives specific information on the location, the types of chemicals and more,” she said. “This is dangerous and a huge security risk. I hope you will take the steps to get the online copies taken off immediately.”
Kosmicki defended his decision to release the report on July 21, adding that it had already been circulating two weeks prior.
“Transparency is absolutely essential to ensure voters are fully informed on a proposal of this magnitude,” he said. “This [report] isn’t something that came from a special interest. This report didn’t come from a lobbyist. This is the county’s own report. It carries real scientific and academic credibility and should be viewed as such.”
The presentation on the report was informational only, and the supervisors took no action. It will be further discussed at a future meeting.