Our town: Where to put Stanford dirt?

Palo Alto Online
September 17, 2008

Our Town:
Where to put Stanford dirt?

by Don Kazak

Stanford broke ground last week for a new Graduate School of Business, one of several construction projects the university has or soon will have underway.

It’s one of many buildings planned, including a new Stanford Hospital and new engineering buildings on what the university calls its Science and Engineering Quad.

To construct a new building, a hole is dug and the dirt is hauled away.

A lot of new buildings mean a lot of dirt will be hauled away.

Dave Rossi, CEO of a dirt-hauling company called the Dirt Market, said that a Stanford official told him that Stanford expects to remove 1 million cubic yards of dirt from the campus in the next 10 years.

It is almost hard to conceive how much that is. Rossi said the largest trucks, which have two compartments, including a trailer, carry 12 cubic yards of compacted dirt. That means in the next decade Stanford will excavate and remove 83,333 truckloads of dirt.

Where the dirt goes is an interesting question.

Stanford applied for a permit from San Mateo County earlier this year to deposit 300,000 cubic yards of excavated dirt on a 143-acre Christmas-tree farm it owns on Alpine Road.

But Stanford withdrew its application for the permit and the tree farm is no longer an option, according to Jean McCown, Stanford’s director of community relations.

Stanford may not have had a choice.

Lennie Roberts, longtime legislative advocate for the Palo Alto-based Committee for Green Foothills, wrote a letter to the county suggesting that a full environmental impact report (EIR) should be required for a such a permit, under California law.

“They wanted to slip it through with a negative declaration,” Roberts said. (A “negative declaration” is a statement that a full EIR isn’t necessary because of minimal environmental impacts.)

Stanford’s excavated dirt from its current projects is now being taken across the Dumbarton Bridge to a quarry in the East Bay.

Rossi and Roberts both believe that there is a better place, one that is half the distance to the East Bay quarry.

Bair Island, located off Redwood City, is undergoing a restoration project that requires a massive amount of landfill. Rossi’s company is managing the landfill project and has also hauled for dirt for Stanford before.

Rossi said it costs Stanford $185 a truckload to take dirt to the East Bay, but he could take it to Bair Island for $165 a truckload.

McCown said that taking the dirt to Bair Island “wasn’t price-competitive,” although Rossi says it is.

A $20 savings doesn’t sound like much, except when multiplied by 83,333 truckloads.

Rossi wrote a July 16 letter to Robert Reidy, Stanford’s vice president for lands, buildings and real estate, about the bidding process to haul Stanford’s dirt. Rossi said he never received a response.

McCown said she was told that the hauling contractors decide where to take the dirt. But she may have been misinformed.

Rossi has a copy of a purchase order from when he hauled dirt for Stanford which includes, at the bottom, a statement: “Per the direction of the owner: Disposal of soft spoils from the Parking Garage excavation are not to be disposed of at a local site called Bair Island.”

The word “not” is underlined on the purchase order. The “owner” is Stanford.

Rossi was told by Stanford officials that his company is no longer allowed to bid on Stanford contracts because his company was “litigious” compared to another hauling company Stanford uses called Top Grade Construction.

So Rossi did a computer search of court records in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. He said he found that Top Grade is involved in 30 lawsuits while his company isn’t involved in any.

Rossi said he is puzzled by all of this.

“It’s an environmentally superior place to put it,” Roberts said of Bair Island.

“If (Bair Island) becomes competitive, of course we would look at that again,” McCown said.

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