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Oakland May Be Backpedaling On Keeping Coal Facility Out

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- For decades, Margaret Gordon has fought to protect her West Oakland community from the health hazards of living next to a major port. Now, the longtime neighborhood activist fears years of progress will be wiped out by a plan to export millions of tons of coal through a new waterfront terminal.

The facility is set to be built on the grounds of the former Oakland Army Base, right next to the Bay Bridge toll plaza, less than a thousand yards from a popular sports field and hundreds of homes.

"From my understanding we might have 12, 15, 20 coal trains a week," Gordon told KPIX 5.

Environmentalists are crying foul, blaming prominent local developer Phil Tagami for orchestrating the deal. They say when he signed a contract with Oakland to turn the former army base into a state of the art export hub, he never disclosed that one of the main commodities would most likely be coal.

In December of 2013 Tagami posted in a public newsletter that a "purported plan to develop a coal distribution facility" was "simply untrue."

Fast forward to 2015 and the man Tagami hired to run the new terminal had this to say. "When coal moves through Oakland, it will be a very positive thing," he said.

"Did he have the autonomy to do this and not having to talk with the city council or the mayor?" questions Gordon.

Mayor Libby Schaaf is privately outraged at the possibility of millions of tons of coal coming through the city. She has told Tagami in an email to stop it immediately. But now KPIX 5 has learned there are negotiations happening behind the scenes at City Hall to try to reach a compromise.

"She has the authority to certainly stop the action, but there are consequences with it," said Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo.

He says it's not simple. There's a lot of money at stake: The state of Utah, where the coal comes from, is offering to pay $53 million for use of the terminal.

"If we shut the door right now it's going to have a great impact on the current fiscal situation of Oakland, as well as the job creation," he said.

Plus, Tagami is threatening to sue the city if he can't go through with the deal.

"No matter what, we will challenge that operation," said Gordon. "The city of Oakland keeps on putting out that it's the greenest city. You are not a green city if you allow coal to come through here."

Tagami turned down KPIX 5's request for an interview, but sent this statement:

The City of Oakland approved an agreement to create the Oakland Bulk and Oversized
Terminal (OBOT), a multi-commodity bulk marine terminal at the former Oakland Army Base, in
2012. The City's agreement with California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG) was
comprehensively analyzed and endorsed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
and reflects a modern, industry-standard marine terminal facility and operation that is consistent
with state and federal law. Nothing has changed since the 2012 approval.
OBOT's construction and operations are designed consistent with the lawful expectations
of potential customers – accommodating three or four of the full spectrum of approximately
15,000 bulk commodities regulated by federal law. This is standard industry practice and
uniform at marine terminals throughout the United States
In analyzing OBOT's development under CEQA, the City imposed a comprehensive
series of mitigation measures and conditions that the terminal operator will adhere to. No
commodity may be transported through OBOT without full compliance with all applicable state
and federal regulations.
CCIG is constructing OBOT, but is not and will not be the terminal operator. Neither
CCIG nor any prospective terminal operator has made commitments to shipping any particular
commodity through the terminal at this point in time. But, the issue is not about any single
commodity. The City reviewed and approved OBOT as proposed. And in reliance on those
approvals, CCIG and others have made binding and enforceable commitments to deliver OBOT
for operations as entitled to ensure the viability of the entire revitalization plan for Oakland's
working waterfront.

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