For more than three decades, visitors to the Sailor Bar area of the American River Parkway have had to pass by a 2-acre site just inside the park entrance that is piled with rock, sand and a mountain of asphalt.
Known as Cutters Pit, the site has been used by Sacramento County’s Transportation Department as a staging area for road repairs for so long that no one actually recalls precisely how or why parks officials agreed to allow it to be located there.
Now, it has become the latest flash point between the county, parkway advocates and a resident of the area who sued last week over the fact that the storage facility is inside a county park.
“The county is currently operating a storage facility and processing (site) within the parkway which contains toxic material,” the lawsuit filed by attorney Nabil Samaan in Sacramento Superior Court claims.
The suit, the second filed in recent months over the county’s oversight of the parkway, includes a series of complaints about how the site has been used and the amount of truck traffic rumbling through residential streets to reach the area. But the asphalt pile, consisting of 8,000 to 10,000 tons stored behind an earthen berm and a locked gate, is the main target of the suit, which Samaan said he filed because he was not satisfied that the county would address the issue.
The county disputes that it is in violation of any environmental or safety regulations and disputes Samaan’s claims that any toxic materials are being stored at the site.
But it is clear that his complaints, which began with a call to The Sacramento Bee in January and continued with meetings between county officials, parkway advocates and Samaan, are having an impact.
Since Samaan first raised the issue, county officials have ensured that the gate to the site remains locked, “no trespassing” signs have been put in place and a massive black plastic tarp has covered the pile, something Samaan’s lawsuit notes is “the largest man-made structure anywhere in the park.”
“It is a horrendous eyesore for the Sailor Bar Park visitors,” the suit adds.
County officials, who have to tread carefully with the various citizen groups that zealously seek to protect the parkway, concede the situation is far from ideal and say they are looking into moving the asphalt out of the park in the next few months to a transportation department yard.
“We are looking into finding a suitable site,” said Reza Moghissi, chief of maintenance and operations for the transportation department.
Moghissi said the county does not believe the site violates any environmental regulations, but “given the public perception, it might be better to move that pile to another location.”
“The remaining materials that we have there would be rock, clean aggregate materials that are natural, that you see along the river,” he added.
Since Samaan began complaining, the county has agreed to monitor the area regularly, inspect it after rainstorms to ensure runoff is not going into the American River, and the county has posted its plans prominently on its parks website.
The asphalt that is currently there is used for minor road repairs in nearby areas of Carmichael, Fair Oaks or Orangevale, Moghissi said. The site also is used to store sand and serve as an emergency location to distribute sandbags to residents in the event of flooding.
But how or why someone decided the best place for it was a park – an area frequented by anglers, bird watchers, hikers and equestrians – is a mystery.
“Should this have ever happened in the park?” asked Betsy Weiland, a member of the Save the American River Association and part of a coalition that met with county officials over the issue. “I wish I knew years and years ago who decided this was a good idea.
“Someone just said, ‘Here’s some parkland not doing anything. Let’s put this here.’”
SARA, a nonprofit group that helped create the 23-mile parkway, sued the county in December over its decision to allow permits for foot races, concerts and other events it believes are harming the area.
But Weiland said she did not support Samaan’s decision to sue over the asphalt pile because the county has “made a good faith effort” to address the issue since the complaints were first raised.
On Friday, Samaan learned from The Bee that the county had indicated it planned to move the asphalt out of the site, but he said that would not affect his suit for now.
“Well, that’s great,” he said. “But I don’t believe it for a minute.”