Congresswoman Barbara Lee Holds Meeting on West Oakland Hazardous Cargo Inspections

By Ashley Chambers

Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office hosted a meeting last week so community members could finally talk to the officials who want to bring big rigs into West Oakland to perform inspections of hazardous cargo coming into the Port of Oakland.

Port of Oakland Custom's Inspectionss

Port of Oakland Custom’s Inspectionss

West Oakland community leaders have been raising concerns that U.S. Customs plans to sign a contract with entrepreneur Tom Henderson to inspect potentially hazardous cargo, including explosives, poisonous gas and nuclear materials, at the old Horizon Beverage building at 1700 20th St. in Oakland.

While U.S. Customs officials did not provide clear estimates of the anticipated truck and cargo traffic they would inspect, the meeting last Thursday did bring together for the first time Henderson, leaders of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), staff from Lee’s office, Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell and City Zoning Manager Scott Miller.

Inspection at port

Inspection at port

In order to conduct inspections, Henderson, the warehouse owner, must first obtain city permits to inspect for contraband and for hazardous materials but apparently does not have staff certified to handle hazardous materials, said Brian Beveridge of WOEIP.

According to Beveridge, U.S. Customs considers that the dangers uninspected cargo may pose to local communities is a city issue, not a concern of U.S Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“There’s a real disconnect between federal government policies on safety around this issue and government statements on why we spend a lot of money on anti-terrorism,” said Beveridge.

Customs representatives said they would take the appropriate action if there were a risk to the community such as explosive cargo. According to the U.S. Customs website, the most serious terrorist threats to the country are through containers at the port.

Beveridge and others are concerned that the city of may not fully understand what is at stake.  “The city doesn’t seem to understand the nature of a Customs warehouse and zoning rules to protect the public,” he said.

Councilmember McElhaney is planning to hold a follow-up meeting so U.S. Customs can provide more detailed information about its day-to-day operations.