After Final Vote, Open-Air Gravel Plant Appears Headed to Oakland's Port

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Several trucks drive through an industrial area with cranes in the background.
Trucks leave the Port of Oakland on Sept. 28, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Oakland’s Port Commission on Thursday gave the sign-off for a construction aggregate company to build an open-air sand and gravel facility at the Port of Oakland. That move marks the last step in finalizing a settlement with the Port and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. The environmental group sued to stop the project in March 2022 on the grounds that it would “expose an entire new generation of West Oaklanders to increased air pollution.”

The settlement requires the developer to put in place watering and monitoring protocols to reduce dust from aggregate stockpiles. They also must use vessels that are powered by the grid and connected to the shore, when they are docked, instead of burning heavy diesel fuel.

“They were talking about electric trucks, but that was as far as they wanted to go. So now they’re going further,” said Margaret Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “We didn’t get everything, but we got enough to say there’s a change coming.”

A person leans on a railing outside a building.
Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), outside the WOEIP offices in Oakland on Sept. 28, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

The lease agreement allows Eagle Rock Aggregates to build and run a Port terminal for importing, storing and distributing sand and gravel. Under the project estimates, trucks would take 70,000 trips annually to carry the material, and the facility could store as much as 2.5 million tons of sand and gravel each year.

In a statement, Eagle Rock President Scott Dryden said he is “excited to continue serving the Bay Area and to solidify the collaborative relationship with our neighbors in West Oakland.” 

Bryan Brandes, the director of maritime for the Port of Oakland, said he was pleased with the outcome and appreciates the push from the community for lower emissions and clean air. He said he understands residents’ concerns, and the Port has reduced emissions significantly over the last decade. 

“The Port is a much cleaner area than it was ten, fifteen years ago,” Brandes said. “We’re going to continue to drive down to zero emissions.”

He said construction material from the project will also help the city of Oakland meet its housing development goals while boosting revenue for the Port. 

The environmentalists argued in their lawsuit that the project put residents at risk by storing construction aggregates in stockpiles as high as 25 feet, holding as much as 329,000 tons each, “with no covering to block wind or rain, allowing dust and particulates to blow off the site or run off the piles.”

“They would not cover the material that would blow out the port area, but we did get them to develop a plan to water it down so the particulates will not be generated through the port area,” Gordon said.


The group said the lawsuit brought necessary attention to concerns about the project’s impact on the community, and forced that conversation. The lawsuit also requires the Port or Eagle Rock to hold an educational session for the community regarding the aggregate terminal operations.

“That’s part of the settlement. They have to come out and talk to us,” Gordon said.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta had also joined the lawsuit over his concerns about the Port’s environmental analysis of the project, noting that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is required to reduce air pollution in West Oakland.

His office said in a statement that the settlement secured binding commitments to mitigate the Eagle Rock project’s air quality impacts and provide other benefits for West Oakland residents.

“For too long, environmental concerns raised by West Oakland residents have not been heeded. The Bureau of Environmental Justice within my office exists to right those wrongs, and today is proof that our efforts are making a positive difference,” Bonta said in the statement.

Residents in West Oakland, a historically Black neighborhood, are already breathing air that contains high levels of toxic diesel particulates. They face higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, premature death and other poor health outcomes related to air pollution than other parts of the region, according to state air officials (PDF).

Oakland, meanwhile, is caught in a legal fight with a developer who has sought to build an export terminal at the old West Oakland Army Base located at the port. Gordon’s group have pressed back on that project as well in an effort to prevent the transport of coal through their neighborhood.

Environmental groups have also raised concern about the Port’s plan to expand the airport.

As for the future of the Eagle Rock project, Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, said the group will continue to keep an eye on whether the Port is keeping its part of the deal, and will keep residents informed.

“Everyone in a neighborhood [cannot] spend their life trying to keep an eye on whether a gravel terminal is doing the right thing or not,” Beveridge said. “And so we try to serve that role and help. When there’s something the community needs to think about, we make sure they know about it.”