Title: Sewage Pipe Collapse destroys Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary at Islais Creek in Hunter's Point Bayview, ButcherTown Area of San Francisco
Construction crews for San Francisco PUC have been working for the last several months, drilling tunnels, called "duct banks" under Islais Creek to bring power, communication, and data cables from the north side of the Islais
Creek Channel east of Third Street (as part of the preparation for the
future Muni Third Street light rail maintenance yard being built at the area bounded by Illinois, 25th, Chavez and SF Bay) to connect to the Hunters Point Power Plant as the source of electric power. ( Hey what about Hunters Point Power Plant shutdown??. or that the Potrero Power Plant is only a few hundred yards north of the maintenance yard?)
For the last several weeks, drilling subcontractors for the SF Muni
have been drilling the duct banks tunnels in the uncompacted sand and gravel landfill at Pier 80 and Islais Creek, crosswise (90%) under a 5 or 6 ft.diameter sewer main that empties underwater, and several hundred yards out into the Bay on the east side of Pier 80.
On Monday or Tuesday, a local resident saw spurts of muck shooting out
of the earth leaving volcano-like one or two foot mounds of earth over
the area. Neighbors called in reports.
Following observations of local residents and agenicies, huge emergency underground construction, diving, welding, PUC, DPW, Water Dept, Port of San Francisco,Sewage Department, SF Muni, casual labor, consultants, insurance reps, and several permits officers, and more, repair crews arrived and have been working day and night since Tuesday. They shut off the sewage pump and
the flow was shifted to another line that diverts the sewae outflow to Islais Creek which has resulted in fines defined as $15 per gallon for secondary efluent outflows. Very important to note is that the damaged pipe under emergency repairs handled an average of 80 million gallons of outflow per day, so go do the math! The sluice gate on the bay was
closed to prevent backflow. A diver who went into the damaged pipe for inside repairs on Tuesday discovered the tunnel had collapsed. Removal
of the land supporting the huge sewer main had cause shifting, then a
crack and leakage. The bay fill land had liquefied, sewage spilled out.
A worker who parked on the pavement toppled down into the hole atop his
backhoe, nearly losing his life. Park activists converged and attempted
to save their tools and trees. The leak has hopefully stopped, but the
toxic spill has ruined the Muwekma Ohlone Park that the Islais Creek
activists had spent so much time and effort and love developing. A 20ft.
deep by 60 ft. long by 50 ft. wide sinkhole and a field of mud now replaces
what was flowers, trees, creatures and community.
The park was the result of years of work on land traditionally occupied
by the Ohlone tribe. It had become a sanctuary of native plants, birds,
and community groups, a refuge of green surrounded by the ships and
towering industrial machinery of the Port of San Francisco. The
"guerilla gardeners" have maintained the site for eight years with the permission of the port. With a USDA urban partnership grant they won a year ago, they master-planned habitat restoration of the land and intertidal areas, and environmental education programs. This past year groups such as the SF
Conservation Corps, SLUG, Wildlife Habitat Council, the Living Art
Community and many Bayview and Islais groups and individuals had done a massive cleanup, restoration and support. Four or five protected species had been found during the habitat survey, plus one unique vertebrate never before
It was enthusiatically documented by the California Academy of
In an August ceremony special earth had been donated by indigenous
of San Francisco. Art and cultural events were held this summer
Native American film festival in May. A healing pole and history
placard were planned. Two other significant grants have since been awarded.
Emergency cleanup crews are still working day and night to remediate the
situation. Eighty million gallons of secondary (post treatment plant)
effluent goes through the main and there is a $15/gallon fine on the
books,reflecting the seriousness of this type of spill. The cost of the work
may pale next to the fine if it is actually imposed. On Thursday,
Thanksgiving day, they welded bands on the sewer pipe as a custom gasket was being
Flown out from the east coast to enable re-pressurize and testing the main.
Muni talked of putting concrete around the pipe next Monday.
What will happen now, what should happen? Who is going to pay, who will
restore the park? "How do you put a value on life?" says David Erickson,
project facilitator for the sanctuary and eight year participant. He
contemplated the displaced frogs hopping around the upheaved earth and
equipment, the birds, the earthworms. "It takes a lifetime to watch a
tree grow," he said of the uprooted eight year old trees. "It looks
like Kandahar (Afghanistan)--a huge hole in the ground." The city crew said
they would try to save some of the trees. A Muni engineering supervisor
assured him that they're "not going to walk away from this" and promised
nice topsoil. "First I felt shock, then anger" said David, "Now I hope
some good will come out of it."
And the disaster opened up a whole new set of ominous questions. Why
were the transmission lines being run to the Hunters Point power plant
that supposedly is to be closed instead of the much closer Potrero
Why was the city drilling under a sewage main on fill with a high risk
liquefaction. Where are the Environment Impact Reports for this work
for the duct banks for the line under the creek. There is even a
possibility that they weren't sure there was a sewage outfall above the
drilling. Perhaps Sophie Maxwell and city hall should call for hearings
to bring some sunshine to bear on what's going on.
And at the same time, in the same area, why is the Illinois Street
railroad bridge suddenly (via pressure and money from Catellus) being
transformed into a 2-lane or 4-lane intermodal (with rail) north-south
corridor for huge trucks from the asphalt and concrete plant across the
channel at the pier 90s to serve Mission Bay developments? Threatening
to cut through Illinois Street alongside the residents and the
it will destroy the loading docks, the outrigger canoe club, the
and intertidal habitat. Neighbors are organizing and having meetings to
stop this looming threat of traffic and pollution to this unique corner
of the city. To get involved contact______.
Photos by David Erickson and Maurice Campbell are posted at
More information on the park and pictures at