Cal Maritime: Why we oppose Orcem

by | Apr 16, 2017 | 0 comments


POSTED:   The Associated Students of the California Maritime Academy and its undersigned affiliates (ASCMA) oppose the Orcem/VMT project proposal. The conversion of the historic Sperry Mill site to a proposed cement mill and shipping terminal would have a detrimental effect on the surrounding community and the City of Vallejo that would not be rectified by the minimal economic benefits the project claims to bring to its citizens.

The students of California State University Maritime Academy (CSUMA) support projects that bring prosperity and opportunities for development to the City of Vallejo. However, after weighing the negative effects that the Orcem/VMT project would bring to the health, environment, and culture of the Vallejo community, it has become clear to ASCMA that this project would bring the city neither long-awaited prosperity nor increased job opportunities.

A large percentage of CSUMA students live on campus or in the neighborhoods of Vallejo. Consequently, it is in ASCMA’s best interest to ensure that Vallejo strives to continually improve itself as a community of both prosperity and growth. Vallejo has great potential to transform itself into a welcoming beacon superior to other neighboring Bay Area cities. The Orcem/VMT project, however, would hinder that growth and redefine it as a solely industrial city rather than promote the advancement of its vibrant community and the quality of life of its citizens.

CSUMA lies 1.3 miles from the proposed cement mill site, a short distance that raises grave concerns among the students regarding their health and well-being. Dust from the stockpiles of raw industrial material would be consistently blown in the direction of the CSUMA campus as it is located downwind from the proposed plant, impacting anyone working or studying on campus on a daily basis. Furthermore, the noise pollution from heavy truck traffic on Sonoma Boulevard that would be created by this project would severely diminish both our campus and the surrounding community. Sonoma Boulevard passes directly by the entrance to the CSUMA campus as well as through neighborhoods where off-campus students live. The injuriousness of the noise generated by this traffic would impair students’ overall ability to study, concentrate, and succeed as university students. In addition, the NOx pollution from potential truck, train, and ship traffic is of great concern for those students who live and study on campus as well as in neighboring areas.

ASCMA applauds the student organizations at Touro University who have already decried this project and aptly pointed out the egregious health issues that would ensue from the polluted environment that the Orcem/VMT project would create. To add to the wealth of scientific data on the deleterious effects of cement dust and diesel emissions already provided by so many opponents of the project, ASCMA also wishes to emphasize that the students of CSUMA have undertaken their own research on the issue, with the support of faculty from the departments of Mechanical Engineering, Sciences and Mathematics, and Culture and Communication, who scrutinized countless documents and written studies, from both a scientific and a medical standpoint. The coalition has found, among other things, that experts from Spain, Turkey and Germany all seem to be in agreement that “green” cement, even though it consumes another industry’s waste products, can’t necessarily be defined as non-polluting.

Indeed, it is highly likely that the same risks inherent in OPC (Ordinary Portland Cement) apply to “green” cement as well. Although from a chemical point of view, cement components are not intrinsically risky, cement dust, CO2 release, and related chemicals needed for its production are dangerous, making the risks in OPC and GGBFS (Ground Granulated Blast Furnace Slag) almost identical. Although more research is needed into this relatively new product, it must be emphasized that the current lack of substantive evidence that can back the safety of the product — as Touro University students aptly pointed out — is far too questionable to invite whole-hearted approval. Vallejo does not need to become Orcem/VMT’s latest experiment for new chemicals that will predictably be deemed toxic years down the road.

CSUMA students have a great respect for the health of the waterways, and the potential harm this project could bring is very alarming. After carefully reviewing the DEIR, ASCMA stands behind both the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper in strongly opposing this project, given their keen and focused interest in protecting the waterways of the Bay Area. As dedicated stewards of the very ground on which this institution of higher education stands, ASCMA firmly believes that it is the students’ duty as future leaders to speak out against any project that can potentially damage, deteriorate, and depreciate the local environment — an environment that ASCMA is committed to protect, not only for the students but for the animals and plants that co-exist on campus and inhabit the coastal waters. As students who are also deeply invested in the welfare and societal needs of the greater city in which the students live, work and study — through the mutually beneficial community partnerships that have been developed over the years with many agencies — it is saddening to see that the Orcem/VMT project promoters have failed to recognize the irreparable harm they are bringing to the most vulnerable assets in the community.

Grace Patterson Elementary School, where Cal Maritime students have volunteered for years through CSUMA community service-learning programs, is less than a quarter of a mile from the proposed plant’s property line, yet the fact that this proximity represents a “first” for Orcem—in no other country where it already has established working plants have these been situated in residential neighborhoods with schools—has neither been adequately nor equitably addressed by the proponents. The immorality of this decision lies in direct contrast to the struggle for social justice that the students believe in upholding, and goes against the nation’s continued efforts to challenge environmental injustice when it invades our local communities, such as south Vallejo, the site of the Sperry Mill, which has been victimized by social inequality for so long. True to CSUMA’s academic core values, ASCMA believes in a diverse living and learning community that embraces everyone, and continually strives to develop a solid code of ethics, both on a personal and a professional level. For this reason, ASCMA finds it highly disturbing that the proponents of the Orcem/VMT project have not adhered to some of the most basic principles of decency.

ASCMA applauds the Vallejo Planning Commission’s rejection of the Orcem/VMT project and encourages the Commission to remain steadfast in opposition throughout the appeal. By the same token, ASCMA also believes that the Vallejo City Council members who served on the MISEDC must recuse themselves from deliberating on the project when the issue comes before them. It is ASCMA’s firm belief that this project is not only woefully inappropriate for the City of Vallejo from an economical and financial point of view, but that it carries with it a series of distinct health-related dangers that will inevitably loom large over the future vitality of this town.

These health challenges will not only affect the physical and mental well-being of Vallejo’s children and citizens at large, but will adversely impact anyone who is considering moving here to work, to study or to live. As students who are part of the California State University system, ASCMA decries Orcem/VMT’s ongoing attempts to have CSUMA’s beautiful campus be situated so close to an industrial cement mill. Furthermore, prospective students would have serious reservations about attending a university that could potentially damage their health and quality of life over a period of four or more years. If this project is approved, it would greatly threaten the very existence and prosperity of this institution. The Associated Students of the California Maritime Academy and its undersigned affiliates call on the Vallejo City Council to reject the Orcem/VMT proposal.

— The Associated Students of the California Maritime Academy (ASCMA), The Cal Maritime Sustainability Club, The Cal Maritime Community Cat Club