Report: Strada Verde needs buffer zone

Recommends miles-long area between fumigant facility

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EARLY LOOK A conceptual plan for the Strada Verde Innovation Park shows the scope of the project. Submitted drawing

A development proposed adjacent to Highway 25 in northern San Benito County should not be built due to its proximity to a facility that stores agricultural fumigants, a report concluded.

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. The proposal is located between highways 25 and 101, bordered by the Pajaro River to the northwest. It is near the Santa Clara County border line, roughly seven miles south of Gilroy.

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. San Benito County officials released the report’s executive summary on July 24, and the supervisors are expected to review it on Aug. 4.

The report, titled “Offsite Consequences Analysis and Hazards Buffer Report for TriCal, Inc.,” examines a segment of the county’s 2035 General Plan, which requires a buffer zone between developments and facilities that handle “chemicals regulated as potentially hazardous.” Such a buffer zone is determined on a “case-by-case basis,” the plan outlines.

TriCal, which was founded in 1961, distributes agricultural fumigants such as chloropicrin and methyl bromide throughout the nation. The Hollister facility, located at 8770 Bolsa Road off of Highway 25, has consistently operated in compliance with no violations, according to five-year data by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

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 cause a hazardous zone of roughly six miles surrounding TriCal.

According to maps presented in the report, that zone extends into the southwestern portion of Gilroy and the northern tip of Hollister.

The report recommends that Strada Verde be built at least three-and-a-half miles away from the TriCal facility. However, as it points out, the entire proposal lies within the recommended buffer zone.

“Any buffer zone less than 3.5 miles would place human life in jeopardy because multiple release scenarios result in unacceptably high concentrations of hazardous chemicals within 3.5 miles of the TriCal site,” the report stated. “Given the findings of this report and degree of hazard at the TriCal facility, the land uses that would be allowed under the Strada Verde proposal are not appropriate within this minimum buffer zone and should not be approved.”

The committee in support of the Strada Verde project, San Benito County Residents for Job Creation, said in a statement that the TriCal facility has operated safely for more than 40 years.

“Even still, before any construction can begin, Strada Verde will undergo a full environmental review and impact report to ensure that the project is entirely safe,” the statement read. “SVIP’s proponents put the health and safety of the future Strada Verde workforce first and foremost, and are committed to delivering a project that is deemed safe by qualified independent experts.”

In a series of frequently asked questions on its website, sanbenitojobs.org, the committee stated the project will “go through a comprehensive environmental impact study and extensive public review process before a single shovel can be put into the ground.”

“This is because the project will require several, future discretionary approvals from the county and other agencies, and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) compliance is required—as a matter of state law—before any of these approvals can be granted,” the committee stated. “That means the county will, at the project sponsor’s expense, be required to ensure full CEQA review and compliance before the project can move forward.”

The supervisors will not take any action on the report during the Aug. 4 meeting. According to county officials, the full report is currently being reviewed by the San Benito County Counsel and attorneys for TriCal, and additional information is expected to be released following the review.

To view the executive summary of the report, visit tinyurl.com/y5zkwkhw.