Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eucalyptus Grove Cleared for Solar Panels at Point Pinole

by Nate Seltenrich
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 12:59 PM

KGO Radio reported today that Contra Costa County workers over the last couple weeks cut and removed more than 100 trees at Point Pinole Regional Shoreline in Richmond to make way for a ground-mounted solar array that will serve the county's adjacent West County Detention Center. Intrigued by this ironic turn of environmentalism, we called Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, in whose district the park falls, to learn more.

The news evidently came as a surprise to him, too. “The first we heard of this situation was when we got some calls from constituents about trees being cut in the park," Gioia said. This was early last week. He called for the work to be halted, but the entire grove had already been cleared. “The last thing we want to see is a grove of trees being cut down to put up solar panels," he said. "It was very horrifying to hear that.”

What happened amounts to a bit of bureaucratic ineptitude. Last September the county Board of Supervisors awarded a contract to Boulder, Colorado-based Main Street Power to convert thirteen county buildings to solar power, which would achieve a 40 percent savings in greenhouse gas emissions between 2010 and 2015. A nice project, but not when you go about it all wrong.

Gioia says Main Street Power identified a location between the jail and the park's entrance as the most cost-effective. The problem was there was a stand of eucalyptus in the way. Relying on an old document prepared by the East Bay Regional Park District identifying this particular grove as overgrown and in need of clean-up, the company decided it had no qualms with removing the trees entirely, and somehow got approval from both county and city staff to do so.

Gioia says due to a lack of inter-agency communication, word never made it to the Board of Supes, and that he never would have approved the project — not least because the location, in direct view of the park's main parking lot and trailhead, was inappropriate for a huge ground-level solar array. Plans are in the works to replace the former eucalyptus grove with a stand of native oaks, and to identify a new location for the array.

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