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Methane Found At Multimillion-Dollar Escaya Housing Project In Otay Ranch

The Escaya development – the area affected by the methane and volatile chemicals – is part of Chula Vista's Otay Ranch development.
HomeFedCorporation.com
The Escaya development – the area affected by the methane and volatile chemicals – is part of Chula Vista's Otay Ranch development.
Methane Found At Multimillion-Dollar Escaya Housing Project In Otay Ranch
Methane Found At Multimillion-Dollar Escaya Housing Project In Otay Ranch GUEST: Brad Racino, senior reporter, inewsource
Methane Found At Multimillion-Dollar Escaya Housing Project In Otay Ranch
Methane and volatile chemicals such as benzene have been discovered underground at a yet-to-be completed Otay Ranch project that is marketed as one of the largest planned housing developments in the U.S.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The water district has stopped the installation of water meters are large housing development preventing homeowners for moving in. The reason is that methane and other chemicals have been discovered beneath the Otay Ranch development. The project is part of a large housing development in the country. Even though more than 100 homes were about to close, the developers seem to believe the situation is under control. Joining me as Brad Racino , senior reporter at KPBS media partner. Is the entire development affected by underground methane? >> From what we know the vast majority is. The data that we have encompasses the majority of this development. There are over 900 homes and most are located where the soil probes were laid down. >> Describe what the development looks like and where it's located? >> It is in Chula Vista off main street. Is adjacent to the Otay landfill and also this company called Balkan. >> I want to ask you more of that in the moment but these houses are quite lovely. >> My colleague went there this weekend and the homes range from 300,000 up to 700,000. They are quite nice and they are move-in ready. >> How is the methane and other chemicals discovered? >> They were discovered in April. The documents said a contractor found this. Testing began in May and then the San Diego county department of environmental health was alerted through something called the assistance programs. >> What does methane do? What is the risk of having this under your home? >> It is a odorless flammable gas used for cooking and it's mitigated. There is a danger. The only danger is if it displaces oxygen or it can explode if it's mixed with the right amount of oxygen. I should make it clear that according to the risk assessment report it said that if this was Medicaid there would be no concern for homeowners. >> This housing development is built near the Otay landfill. Is the theory that these chemicals seeping into the ground from those businesses? >> That is a really great question. Looking at documents from the voluntary assistance program they alerted the county and said that the sores is believed to be from the salvage yards and the adjacent areas. It did not say the Otay landfill. When I spoke to Paul he said nothing and the city said they do not believe that it is from the landfill. They say is very heavily regulated. So it seems like things are pointing towards the salvage yards. >> You said you spoke with the president of home fed and I said that they seem to believe the situation is under control, is that the case? >> According to the president, it is. He said this is not very uncommon. Methane has been an issue in the last couple of years. He believes that it can be medicated. The question is how did he get to this point where the Otay water district is refusing to install water meters. The line from them is that this will be fine and worked out. >> Do you have any idea whether the methane found is beyond this development question mark >> Right now we don't know. The soil assessment that we have goes to the middle of the development and the easternmost side of where they tested had some of the highest concentrations of methane and they are recommending for the testing be done. The water district -- over the next couple of weeks we will know more about how far this reaches and how big the problem is. >> It sounds like this is a story that you will be following. >> Yes. >> I've been speaking with Brad Racino . Thank you. >> Thank you for having me.

Methane and volatile chemicals such as benzene have been discovered underground at a yet-to-be completed Otay Ranch project that is marketed as one of the largest planned housing developments in the U.S.

Homebuyers in the Chula Vista community known as Village of Escaya can’t move into their homes because government officials have stopped installation of water meters.

inewsource is the first to report on the discovery, though contractors first noticed the potential problem in April. Water sampling began the following month and the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health was alerted in June.

“The district is doing its due diligence to make sure that they’re evaluating the situation,” Otay Water District spokeswoman Tenille Otero said Friday.

The Otay Water District provides water and wastewater service to nearly a quarter-million customers in San Diego County. It typically takes responsibility for a developer’s work, including pipes and facilities, once a project is completed. In this case, the district is refusing to install water meters within the 450-acre development until the problems with the methane and other chemicals are resolved.

Other agencies involved include the Chula Vista Development Services Department and Chula Vista Elementary School District, as well as several private companies.

HomeFed Corp. owns 4,450 acres in Chula Vista’s Otay Ranch, which is approved for 13,000 homes and nearly 2 million square feet of commercial development. The Escaya development – the area affected by the methane and volatile chemicals – has townhomes starting in the mid-$300,000s and single-family homes as high as the low-$700,000s.

The land’s developer, Carlsbad-based HomeFed Corp., is marketing nearly 1,000 homes in an area adjacent to the Otay Landfill, auto-salvage yards and the country’s largest producer of construction aggregates. According to HomeFed’s most recent quarterly report, 165 homes were under contract to close within Escaya as of Oct. 24.

HomeFed’s president and chief executive officer, Paul Borden, told inewsource on Friday the discovery of methane and other volatile compounds is not unusual in California.

“It’s going to be dealt with absolutely the way it should be dealt with,” Borden said, adding that HomeFed is working out mitigation measures with the water district. The matter will be resolved “very soon,” he said.

Borden said homebuyers also have been alerted to the issue.

“Among the many many things that are disclosed, this is definitely one of them,” he said.

Are you a current or potential homebuyer at Escaya? We’d like to hear from you. Call or email the reporters on this story: bradracino@inewsource.org or brandonquester@inewsource.org.

Methane is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and flammable gas primarily used for heating, cooking and generating electricity. It can be dangerous when it displaces oxygen — causing asphyxiation — or when it accumulates at certain levels and can explode. Benzene and other volatile chemicals can be cancerous depending upon the amount present.

If mitigated properly, the potential physical hazard and risk to human health is considered “insignificant” for the occupants of Escaya, according to a risk assessment report issued in August.

Escaya site plan showing methane concentrations in soil gas at 5 feet below grade.
Human Health Vapor Risk Assessment Report, TRC Solutions, Inc.
Escaya site plan showing methane concentrations in soil gas at 5 feet below grade.

The Chula Vista Development Services Department is reaching out to other jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, to make sure it is following best practices, said Kelly Broughton, the department’s director.

“We’re also working with the City Attorney’s Office to look at engaging an outside methane expert for ourselves to see if there are any other protocols we should follow,” Broughton said.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District plans to build a school in Escaya, but that site has yet to be tested. District spokesman Anthony Millican told inewsource the district is still in the “due diligence” phase and has no intent to pull out of the project.

“You mitigate it,” Millican said of the methane and volatile chemicals found at Escaya. “If you can’t, then you don’t build there.”

According to the risk assessment report, a charter school is planning to build on a lot adjacent to the landfill and salvage yards.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Chula Vista Elementary School District planned to build a school on a lot with the highest concentration of methane, adjacent to the landfill. While the district does plan a school in Escaya, it is on a different lot that hasn’t yet been tested. A charter school plans to build on the lot adjacent to the landfill.

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