Debris from those dumps has been slowly eroding into Markley Creek and the San Joaquin River, where tests by Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board investigators found unacceptable levels of lead and other material.
Now, after five years of negotiations and threats of multimillion-dollar fines, the city of Antioch is about to start cleaning the dumps and Markley Creek. It could cost the city as much as $2 million for the work, plus $150,000 it agreed to earlier this year, in order to settle allegations of failure to comply with a water board cleanup order issued in 2002, according to city and water board officials.
Joe Brandt, Antioch's community development director, said that the city will do the bulk of the improvements. The Seeno Corporation, which owns adjoining land, has settled separately but its plans were not known to Antioch, he said.
Brandt put a diplomatic spin on why it took five years for the city to settle the complaint, noting that there were multiple property owners when the water board issued its initial complaint.
"Remediation and digging are not as clear cut as they sound," he said. "There are two parties involved, and there was the question of whether the city would do the work by itself or with Seeno. That decision will be made by Seeno."
City Attorney Lynn Tracey Nerland, who said she was not on staff when the first order was issued, said the five-year delay was the result of having multiple property owners involved in the process. She said that each party was looking after its interests, and sometimes their interests did not coincide.
Antioch is the last local agency drawing its drinking water from the river, and its intake is east of where Markley Creek empties into the river. The city does not use any of the groundwater in the area of the old dumps. But anglers fish in the river. It is a big recreation draw as well as home to an array of wildlife and plants that depend upon unpolluted water. Stronger water quality standards have come on the books since the dumps closed.
City staff reports cite the existence of three old dumps in the area: one city dump each for Antioch and Pittsburg and a toxic waste dump acquired by TRC Inc. from GBF Holdings.
A city staff report states that sometime around 1928, Antioch began operating a dump north of Paso Corto Road (generally where James Donlon Boulevard now exists) and east of Somersville Road. At about the same time, Pittsburg was operating a similar dump immediately east of Antioch's. All the dumps closed in 1968.
"While everything staff has seen suggests the Antioch landfill was operated to the standards of the day, the standards of 1928 through 1968 were considerably different than they are today," the report states.
Over the years the land swapped hands, portions were sold for various purposes and the new owners inherited responsibility for the cleanup. Those landowners include Antioch and the A.D. Seeno Corp. Seeno took possession of the GBF land, and TRC settled out previously, Brandt said.
Through the years, some erosion was noted and corrected. In 2001, TRC purchased part of the old Antioch dump to install a storm drain. Shortly after the drain's installation, storm water flowing from the pipe washed out a large portion of the old Antioch dump and the banks of Markley Creek, carrying former landfill material into the creek.
That was when the water board got involved and issued the first of two cleanup orders to the property owners.
Negotiations among all the parties continued into 2006, when the water board issued a cleanup order threatening to fine the property owners anywhere from $60,800 to $3 million.
In a June 2007 settlement, Antioch agreed be the lead agency in repairing the dumpsite to prevent further erosion and migration of toxic material into Markley Creek and the river.
In the only public comment on the situation, at the July 24 council meeting resident William Leroy said to Mayor Don Freitas, "You're a violator of making the water dirty, and you're the manager of the county clean water program - you should be ashamed of yourself."
Freitas did not respond.