May 18

Baer Fabrics – Memories Of A Great Place

Baer Fabrics closed in 2008, sadly. It will be missed!

One day in the spring of 1981, Dorothy Burns was scanning the endless shelves at Baer Fabrics in downtown Louisville, looking for the perfect materials to adorn the wedding of her youngest daughter.

At the same time, her husband, Henry, was elsewhere on a similar quest for the right brand of champagne. Unable to decide between the final two candidates, he, too, arrived at Baer’s 515 E. Market St. store with two champagne bottles clinking and two glasses tinkling in his hands, searching for his wife.

Abraham Baer was soon called to the sales floor to investigate the disturbance.

Clued in properly, Baer helped Henry find Dorothy. The three of them sat in the store, sipped the champagne and arrived at a consensus on the wedding wine.

Baer soon was invited to the wedding and helped celebrate the ceremony on a beautiful June afternoon.

This is one of a number of stories that surfaced when Baer asked its customers to send in their favorite “Baer Tales” during a recent store-sponsored contest.

It also personalizes the kind of customer-oriented service–and ability to “go with the flow”–that has allowed the third-generation family business to thrive while many others in Louisville faded into history.

Today, the company bills itself the world’s largest fabric and button store.

“I’ve never run across a larger one,” says its president, Stuart Goldberg, who took the reins when Baer, his father-in-law, died in 1984. He’s the only member of the original family still active in the business.

The company employs 125 people, just under 100 at the Louisville store and the rest at a second store in Evansville, Ind.–figures that have doubled in the past seven years.

Even the current recession only dented a rapid growth rate that has seen company revenues triple since that spring day in 1981, according to Goldberg.

He estimated revenue growth of 10 percent for 1991, compared with a 20 percent average during most of the 1980s.

“We know there’s a lot of business out there, it’s just knowing where it is and how to get it,” Goldberg added.

The company has done that and more–actually creating thousands of new customers for itself through a unique company educational program that teaches people how to sew for fun.

More than 4,000 people attend Baer’s sewing classes annually–including 100 or so teen-agers who attend “Camp Baer,” a series of week-long sewing seminars that also provide sales experience and instruction on how to seek employment.

By advertising in national sewing publications, the company also has developed a profitable mail-order business–with its own 800 telephone number–that accounts for 10 percent of Baer’s retail sales.

And Baer Fabrics stays in touch, publishing a quarterly newsletter that goes out to more than 26,000 customers.

At the same time, Baer continually looks for new opportunities in its Commercial Products, or wholesale, division. The firm recently signed an agreement with a Japanese maker of high-tech vinyl to distribute its product–used for popular back-lit business awnings–in 22 states in the eastern United States.

To Goldberg, the ability to change with the times is the key to the company’s success. And Baer Fabrics has shown a knack for doing that since 1905, when Nathan Baer, a Polish immigrant forced to leave his job in a clothing factory because of lung disease, began peddling materials from his home.

One of his first customers was an apprentice tailor named Sam Meyers.

In 1930, Nathan’s son, Abe, joined the firm. Baer began supplying Meyers and other tailors with dry cleaning supplies. That enterprise made up the bulk of Baer’s business through World War II and remains a staple of its Commercial Products division, which still accounts for half of Baer’s revenues.

After the war, dry cleaners sprang up, the number of tailors fell dramatically and fabric “pattern” companies emerged.

As a result, home sewing swept the country–and Baer switched its core business to retail fabrics and sewing supplies.

That also meant the company “changed from a men’s to a women’s store,” according to Goldberg. It also opened the Evansville store.

The company began to pride itself as a supplier of “hard-to-find” items–a niche it dominates even more today. That helped the family firm ride out the waves in a highly cyclical business.

The biggest boom for fabric stores hit during the 1960s and early ’70s. Goldberg calls it “the double-knit era.”

Double knit made sewing so easy it attracted thousands of new customers to stores such as Baer Fabrics. But when the material went out of style, Goldberg recalled, it left behind a whole generation that didn’t really know how to sew with more traditional fabrics.

The industry hit a down cycle.

Enter Goldberg, who joined the firm in 1976 with a master’s degree in business from the University of Michigan and experience as a partner in a heavy-truck dealership and truck-parts distributorship.

He said he considered the move carefully.

“I had such a wonderful relationship with my father-in-law, I didn’t want to ruin it by going into business with him,” Goldberg recalled with a smile.

By 1979, Goldberg and Baer had decided that education was the key to developing a new generation of retail customers.

Taking a cue from other large stores in the industry, Baer Fabrics began a series of sewing seminars, paying noted lecturers to come to Louisville on a regular basis.

When that proved costly, Baer turned to providing its own lessons–eventually building two large classrooms in its downtown Louisville store.

Goldberg believes Baer was the first sewing store in the country to take that step, although a handful of others in large cities have since followed suit.

The company also made a conscious decision to promote sewing entirely as a fun hobby–rather than a needed skill or essential element in home economics.

The strategy paid off. Baer’s latest round of growth began in about 1980 and continues today.

In the early ’80s, Goldberg realized that most of Baer’s customers were over 35. With that thought in mind, Camp Baer was founded.

Early response was lukewarm. Goldberg and other company managers worried that teen-agers didn’t want to sit in front of a sewing machine all day. “We were dead wrong,” he says now.

These days, each of the camps is full, with eight to 10 students paying $85 tuition for a week of instruction at the Market Street store from two teachers Baer recruits from area colleges and its own customer base.

Meanwhile, with the help of its mail order business, Baer has become a major national supplier of costumes to the theater and dance industries.

And the company continues to develop new commercial customers. It has added automotive and marine supplies to its home upholstery business.

Baer uses every inch of its 85,000-square-foot building and its buying power to build its reputation as the place to find items that can’t be found anywhere else.

Whole walls, for instance, are devoted to zippers or old-fashioned suspender clips that are no longer in production.

“You can’t sell from an empty wagon,” Goldberg likes to say.

Baer moved to its current site in 1972 when it was forced out of its store on the other end of Market Street by an urban-renewal project. The company strongly considered a move to the suburbs at the time–but the cost for a similar amount of space there would be “prohibitive,” according to Goldberg.

All that space comes in handy for Baer’s service businesses.

For instance, Baer stores boxes of hangers for its dry-cleaning customers, delivering them only when companies such as Highland Cleaners need them.


May 18

Shopping In Kyoto

Kyoto has always been one of my favorite places to shop for cool stuff. Two shops, Nijusanya and Katsura-Ya, have wonderful handmade combs and hair ornaments carved in Japanese motifs. These are used for arranging traditional hairstyles but a designer might consider framing them in a Plexiglas box for a stunning wall piece. Some shops sell only purses, or only belts, for the local geisha clientele; these, too, would be nice in frames. In the same neighborhood, Isamu Noguchi lanterns can he found at Miura Shomei for reasonable prices.

Yokohama Street had many antiques and curios and nearby on Nawate-dori Kyoto Guin specializes in screens of all kinds. Down on the right many good prints are available on Shin Monzen, “Shopping Street.” On Teramachi is Takana Bamboo Arts, which makes and sells things designed for the tea ceremony, still popular in Kyoto. The dark woven bamboo vases and flower baskets at $45 would look fine in any living room, as would lampshades, banded in bamboo, for about $100. On the same street Yamanaka Seikado specializes in Kyoto metalwork, with lovely pewter teapots, bowls and vases from $30 up.

Even though Kyoto is the center for traditional handcrafts, this mingei, or folk art, is getting harder and harder to find. There are odds and ends in a lot of places on Kawaramachi-dori, off Shoji-dori, but the best is at Yamato Mingei Ten with many signed papier-mache pieces; giant cats and dogs and fanciful beasts, colorful accents for any room. On this street, too, is a splendid collection of Japanese paper umbrellas (wagasa), all fragrant with persimmon tannin. An enormous one, almost six feet in diameter, costs about $250 and can be used outside in the garden. Stop in at Marufuku, whose sign announces they are a “fine art curious shop,” and often there are indeed both fine and curious things available: antiques and large and small accessories. Down the street is a purveyor of old and new Japanese prints and an art book store.

If you are interested in pottery, try to find a street called Kiyomizuzaka, which is lined with shops selling nothing else. An afternoon might be devoted to the antiques district south of Sanjo-Keihan station. Here, on Nawate-dori and Furumonzen are treasure troves of lacquerware, ceramics, textiles and old and new kimonos. Latticed shop fronts, characteristic of old Kyoto, face the narrow street.

One shop, started more than a century ago, is Nakamura Kotaro’s Chinglreya, a haven for collectors, textile designers and craftsmen who appreciate the incredible collection of textiles, priests robes and kimonos. This is on the east side of Nawate-dori; across on the west side you will find the tiny shop of M. Yoshida with a cache of porcelains, and lacquerware squeezed in among chairs and tables.

At S. Nishimura on Furumonzen you can buy early-20th-century kimonos for $40 up to about $350, to use as wall hangings. Poke through the piles of silk fragments for pillow-makings. Ask directions here for the store around the corner of the elder Mr. Nishimura, father of the proprietors. His extensive collection of antique kimonos and textiles is among the city’s best.

Kyoto is beautiful!

A doll shop may sound mundane, but this is not true of K. Fuji’s at 14 Nawate-dori. Kyoto has long been the center of Japanese doll-making and here you will find old and new versions of appealing baby dolls. Elaborate geisha dolls are dressed in antique fabrics. Boy and girl dolls from Girls’ Days and Boys’ Days long past cost about $200. A marvelous set of elder sister paper dolls, over 200 years old, are only $28 and would be stunning in a frame. Glass cases for dolls are available here.

If you happen to be in Kyoto the end of the month you can spend a fascinating day browsing at two colorful temple markets, Toji Temple on the 21st and Kitano Tenjin on the 25th. In Japan, even a flea market is beautiful. Red and white banners float overhead, booths are decorated with blue and white signs or black and red calligraphy. The smell of incense permeates the air and the faint sound of drums, wooden clackers and chanting comes from the temple. Everything from antique swords, painted fans, lacquerware furniture and Kyoto dolls to plastic dishpans is for sale. Among the antiques and crockery are mountains of old kimonos, tied in bales and hung on makeshift racks, all for sale at rock bottom prices. Some have holes or worn places; you won’t have to feel like a sinner if you have these cut up for pillow covers. Bargaining may be difficult; it helps to have a translator, but you can always use pencil and paper to present offers.

Even if you don’t buy anything it is fascinating to wander through the crowd or visit the temple. You might stop at one of the small shrines, hung with colored banners with bells along the bottom. After donating a coin, the supplicant yanks the fabric to get the attention of the god and then says a prayer. Be sure to indulge in some of the absolutely delicious tidbits at the tempting food stalls.

Many tours of Kyoto include a stop at the Kyoto Handicraft Center. The place is a seven-story tourist trap with quite appalling prices. Our advice is not to buy anything except small paper goods or prints. New sets of elder sister dolls are made of varied hand printed paper and cost only a few dollars. Like the old ones, they would be fun to frame. If you have a big suitcase, you could consider the 3-ft.-high paper bride dolls, or a group of smaller ones to back with some of the glossy tea paper sold here. Don’t even look at the kimonos; the prices were higher than those in the States. The Center does have a good map of Kyoto, but at the top it says “Have a Nice Day!”


Mar 08

Woodworking As A Hobby

After a rigorous day at the office, Bob Pennington dons his epoxy-encrusted T-shirt and makes a beeline for his shed, where he stows the 34-foot twin-engine cabin cruiser he is building. Pennington, a 47-year-old operations manager for a Jackson, Miss. trucking company, has spent every spare minute for the past three years on the boat. For him, it is its own reward.

“When everybody else is in bed, I stand there looking at what I’ve managed to do one stick at a time, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up on end,” he says.

After the frenzied, cash-driven spree of the 1980s, many baby boomers are retreating to the garage for a sense of personal accomplishment. The hours when they roll up their sleeves and restore old automobiles or work with wood provide a special satisfaction. And retailers, noting a growing demand for tools and hardware, have begun pitching their wares to this affluent audience.

Antique car associations report that doctors, lawyers and architects are combing junkyards for spare parts. No fewer than 29,000 home-built airplanes are under construction at the moment in garages and backyards across the nation. Meanwhile, a slew of amateur boat builders are crafting classic reproductions of Kris Krafts.

Woodworking dominates the back-to-the-garage movement. Today, 11 woodworking magazines and six mail-order tool companies cater to an estimated 10 million woodworkers. Each week on PBS’ The New Yankee Workshop, Bob Vila’s affable former partner Norm Abrams walks 4.5 million viewers through simple furniture-building projects. Executive producer Russell Morash gets hundreds of request to feature cradle and computer desk construction.

To get a better handle on the new breed of woodworkers, Better Homes and Gardens’ Wood magazine and Rodale Press’ American Woodworker each conducted consumer surveys. Results reveal the average woodworker is male and spends 7.3 hours a week in his shop. Roughly 50% have managerial or professional jobs and their median household income is $45,000.

Woodworking rules!

This kind of demographic makes marketers salivate. It’s no surprise retailers are stocking up on screws, slides and hinges, as well as on drill bits and circular saw blades. Furniture refinishing remains the leading project category, and demand for sandpaper, spray paint, polyurethane and oil finishes has risen. Garrett Wade, a specialty-tool mail-order company in New York, has set up a hot line for customers with questions about matching colors and finishes, as well as finishing techniques.

Garrett Wade’s Woodworking, like many catalogues, goes after high-end craftspersons. Tools are lovingly displayed like gems on the page. Catalogue copy flatters readers’ image of themselves as serious hobbyists with detailed explanations of, for instance, why Japanese saws cut on the pull rather than on the push stroke.

Lee Valley Tools in Ottawa, Ont., recognizing another characteristic of the boomer demographic, markets scaled-down tools for children. “There are some horribly concerned yuppies who want this quality-time thing with their children,” suggests the wry owner Leonard Lee.

Nevertheless he sympathizes with professionals who miss the gratification of working with their hands. “These guys sit in front of a computer monitor all day without producing anything discernible. Few people can look back on a day’s work anymore and say `I moved a pile of dirt from point A to point B today,’” Lee says.

Lee and other retailers must compete with Sears, the industry giant. Woodworkers still recognize the Craftsman brand from their fathers’ shops, and associate it with quality and value. Sears has expanded its tool offerings over the past two years to ensure woodworkers will remain loyal.

Despite the competition, however, marketers with an eye on the garage are finding plenty of baby boomers ready to spend in order to create. And they haven’t even reached retirement yet.


Jan 12

The Berkeley And Oakland Fires

Does anyone else remember these fires. I was there, and it was pretty crazy at the time:

In a scenario somewhat identical to their coverage of the October 1989 earthquake, San Francisco Bay area newspapers hit the red alert button and went full out to report on the fire, which took 23 lives, caused billions of dollars in damage and left many Bay Area residents without homes.

The Tribune and other papers put almost everybody available on the story. They opened up dozens of extra pages, ran special sections, published scores of sidebars and featured several pages of photos, many in color.

There were angles in the entertainment, sports and business sections.

If the coverage proved one point, it is that, recession or no recession, newspapers will still put out a 110% effort for a big story.

Said one editor, “I didn’t think about the overtime then and I don’t want to think about it now.”

“With few exceptions our staffers worked around the clock,” Newton said.

The financially strapped Tribune devoted 20 pages to the fire on Oct. 22, including two full pages of pictures.

The blaze hit hardest in one of the Tribune’s main circulation areas.

“The Trib is the primary newspaper for at least 2,500 households in the fire zone,” Newton said. “It was right where we live.”

He added that the paper was attempting to locate its customers by running a community bulletin board, which also listed locations of shelters and the streets damaged.

One of the homes destroyed was that of Davida Small, a clerk in the paper’s feature department.

Maynard’s home was miraculously spared, while the house next door and others on the street went up in flames.

In his first-person narrative, Maynard said: “After Nancy and the children were settled in our office, I went back to the neighborhood. It was like visiting hell at Ground Zero. Cross Road, the little street on the north boundary of our property was a ball of flame. Every house on both sides of the street . . . was engulfed in flame.”

“Sunday is usually a down day but we geared up very quickly,” said San Francisco Examiner managing editor Phil Bronstein. He noted that the paper rounded up 50 people to handle the story.

As an afternoon paper, the Examiner tags well behind its JOA partner, the a.m. San Francisco Chronicle in circulation, but in reporting the fire, being a p.m. publication proved an advantage, Bronstein said.

“We made excellent use of the fact that we are the only p.m. paper in the area. Nowhere else could people get an update than in our late afternoon edition.”

The Examiner also has reporters who live in the Oakland hills.

“Some were protecting their homes with hoses while holding a notepad in their other hand,” Bronstein related.

While flames leaped to within 200 yards of his home, reporter Lance Williams was on the phone with Bronstein, “providing good information and color,” according to the editor.

Chronicle managing editor Matt Wilson said that on Sunday afternoon editors rounded up “everybody we could find,” including photographers who had been covering the San Francisco 49ers football game at Candlestick Park.

“We took a swat-team approach to the story,” Wilson said. “On Monday and Tuesday, we put more people on it.”

The Chronicle ran seven-page special fire sections Monday and Tuesday. They contained numerous sidebars on such angles as the insurance aspect of the disaster and the fire department’s performance.

Four Chronicle staff members lost all or part of their homes in the inferno. Business writer John Eckhouse was in Russia on a story when the fire wiped out his house.

Photographer Eddie Ledesma narrowly escaped with his life when the fire roared between him and his car while he was shooting. The auto was engulfed.

“October is the cruelest month for us,” Wilson commented about the fire and quake.

Street circulation shot up 7,000 on Monday for the San Jose Mercury News, which involved two-thirds of its editorial staff in fire coverage, including people assigned from the Sunday magazine, sports, business and the opinion page. The paper added 7,500 extra copies Monday morning with color fire photos on Page One.

“They sold extraordinarily well,” said managing editor Jerry Ceppos.

Ceppos said the M-N takes credit for an exclusive enterprise story that raised the question of whether firefighters were responsible for letting the fire get out of hand. The story was picked up by AP and was given prominent media play.

The M-N published five fire pages the first day and seven the following day, in addition to stories in other parts of the paper. One was a personal account by staff writer Pete Carey, who told of helping his 87-year-old father gather up belongings from his house and fleeing with him.

One M-N reporter, Frances Dinkelspiel, and her husband dashed to safety as their home and car went up in smoke. The house had been purchased only a few months ago.

The Hayward Review in Alameda County, the scene of the fire, recruited “everybody that could be found,” according to editor Bob Wynne.

“This was every bit as big a story as the earthquake and, in one sense, bigger,” Wynne stated. “The difference is that the fire was not over in 15 seconds. It kept going and going.”

The Review and other papers in the Alameda Newspapers group pooled their resources to cover the conflagration. The Review published an eight-page special section, including one for color photos.

Photographers Jay Solmonson and Nick Lammers, who live in the fire zone, were working the 49ers game when the blaze broke out. They took their film to the office and then successfully sought their families after the paper had put them up in a hotel. Their homes escaped damage.

Clay Haswell, managing editor of the Lesher newspapers in the East Bay, said, “We pulled out all the stops.”

The flagship Contra Costa Times displayed 16 color photos on the first day while coordinating its effort with sister papers, the Valley Times, West County Times and the San Ramon Valley Times.

Lucy Mantz, data processing director for Lesher Communications, died in the fire. Her body was found near her home.

Reporter Mike Spencer almost was a casualty. He was gathering information at the scene when a fireball rolled down a hill and destroyed his nearby motorcycle.

Haswell said the Lesher papers threw 40 reporters and photographers on the story.

Two staffers, sports columnist Dave Newhouse and reporter Dan Borenstein, wrote personal accounts for the Contra Costa Times. Newhouse told about evacuating his house and Borenstein’s piece was in the form of a letter to his 71-year-old father whose house was gutted by the fire. The son advised elder Borenstein not to visit the site “until you feel ready for the shock.”


Nov 21

Keeping California Water Clean

During World War II, dewatering of the Penn mine resulted in fish kills that essentially wiped out the salmon in the Mokelumne. As a result, EBMUD was required to maintain a fish hatchery at the dam, but, because there was no requirement that the utility maintain adequate river flows necessary for the fish to survive once they left the hatchery, the kills recurred.

In 1977, major fish kills because of mine wastes in the Camanche reservoir resulted in the issuance of a Cleanup and Abatement Order to New Penn Mines, the owner of the mine. The order was ignored, as were most subsequent orders.

Other attempts to deal with New Penn Mines also failed, and in March 1979, EBMUD, the state Department of Fish and Game (DF&G), and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board agreed to a joint cleanup of the mine discharges. They built surface diversion ditches and a series of ponds along Mine Run creek above the point where it drains into the river.

The potential problem of contamination of groundwater in the 55,000 linear feet of underground shafts at the mine, with a capacity of perhaps 30 million gallons, was not addressed. As Dennis McCord, current supervisor at EBMUD’s Pardee center says, “Our contention is that there is no seepage of toxins from Penn through dikes or groundwater into Camanche. We think that the only problem is when the containment dikes overflow due to heavy rains.”

Such overflows, both controlled and uncontrolled, began in 1979, the same year the water quality board rescinded its Cleanup and Abatement Order noting that EBMUD had “removed the accumulated muds from Oregon Bar and constructed Mine Run Dam which effectively prevents further contributions of zinc and copper to Lake Camanche.”

Despite that assurance, the spills continued on 24 percent of all days throughout the next 10 years, with more than 42 million gallons going over the dam some years.

Throughout the ’80s, pressure mounted to control the toxic discharges from Penn Mine. EBMUD continued to point out that it was not the owner of the mine, but requests for materials and threats of fines against the absentee owner were ignored.

Eventually, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed a complaint with the water quality board charging EBMUD with violating the law by operating outside waste discharge requirements and without the necessary permits. The utility then quietly filed for a waiver from the Waste Discharge Requirements and an exemption from the provisions of the Toxic Pits Cleanup Act (TPCA), which would mean it would avoid having to conduct a hydrogeological assessment report (HAR). Penn Mine was not mentioned in the waiver request.

Although hotly contested by the various fishing and conservation groups, downstream users, and the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, the water quality board granted the exemption and waiver. And, in late 1990, EBMUD filed a request with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to have the mine removed from its list of toxic waste sites. The same local groups that fought the waiver subsequently accused the utility of trying to make an end run around federal anti-pollution laws.

EBMUD, however, constantly reiterated its position that it did not own the mine and, therefore, was not responsible for the pollution from it. Nevertheless, the state’s attorney general had held in numerous cases that “dischargers are the persons who now have legal control of the property from which such drainage arises. By failing to take action which is within their legal power to halt the defilement of the drainage or to render it harmless with treatment before it departs their property, (they) are responsible for the deleterious discharge.”

The attorney general also noted that, “the fact that the persons who conducted the operations which originally produced the harmful material have left the scene does not free from accountability those permitting the existing and continuing discharge of the material into waters of the State.”

Eventually, in the face of continued complaints by the DF&G and the California Sportfishing Alliance, EBMUD began a program to protect the Mokelumne River Fish Installation, including the injection of potassium permangante to reduce hydrogen sulfide, as well as establishment of an in-reservoir outlet and better management of the outlet and its withdrawal system.

But the biggest problem, that of adequate river flows, remained. Until the utility agreed to release water from the dams, they argued, fish in the hatchery were doomed once they left it.

The Committee to Save the Mokelumne argues that the best short-term solution is dilution of the contaminants with increased riverflows and higher reservoir levels. It points out that, “although millions of Californians drink treated delta water (considered lower quality), EBMUD has consistently demanded only ‘pure Sierra water.’ It has refused to seriously consider allowing part of its allocation to flow down the Mokelumne to be recaptured from the delta,” fearing that its own water supply would run short.

Meanwhile EPA has listed the Penn Mine on the short list of cleanup areas under the Clean Water Act. This means, among other things, that individual control strategies must be developed to reduce discharge of toxic pollutants from point sources.

EBMUD, however, points out that, under the law, dams and dikes cannot be considered point sources.

The water quality board recently received $330,000 ($100,000 of it from EBMUD) to study the problem at Camanche. Of that amount, $70,000 was used to drill wells to investigate the potential groundwater pollution. The entire cost of the study is less than that of a full HAR, which can cost more than $500,000, and the Committee to Save the Mokelumne accuses the utility of trying to avoid undertaking the larger assessment, which, presumably, would reveal the extent of groundwater contamination at the site.

McCord defends EBMUD, however. “This is where (the committee’s) argument falls apart. No one has found a groundwater contamination plume. There are as of this year five groundwater monitoring wells looking for contamination. We are doing it at our own lab in Oakland, and the results are public information.”

Critics argue that EBMUD is not really looking for a groundwater contamination plume, however. According to McCord, the worst case scenario “would be a definite conclusion that groundwater contamination is occurring and that it is a function of our efforts to contain surface run-off, with heavy metals leaching to the groundwater. It may cost $100 million to clean up the surface waters, but it could cost $1 billion or more to clean up the groundwater.”

That being the case, McCord uses the old EBMUD argument once again — “our position is still that the contaminated element is off our property and the fact is the runoff crosses ours.”

However, the utility has compiled a list of alternative strategies to control acid mine drainage, but it states that source mitigation measures “would necessarily be the responsibility of the owners of New Penn Mine, Inc.” Unfortunately, the company has gone bankrupt, and its owner has died. Alternatively, the utility argues that “options could be undertaken by the current owners of new Penn Mine, by the state of California or by the EPA.” McCord, however, admits that “they will probably end up holding our feet to the fire.”

The first alternative listed by EBMUD is the “No Action Alternative,” but it does recognize that the California Administrative Code would require the closure of surface impoundments and place requirements on the ability of the system to handle 25-year event 24-hour storms that may not be met by existing structures.

It also notes that although public utilities are now exempt from the provisions of Proposition 65, which requires cessation of discharges of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity (including lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium, all of which occur in Penn Mine wastes), the legislature is expected to soon eliminate that exception.

The second alternative is source control, which would involve removal of tailings and treatment of standing water, followed by closure of the ponds. Although this would solve the problem, it would be expensive even if a suitable landfill for the tailings could be found. Even the conservative EBMUD estimate of the cost of this option is $140 million; and a cheaper version, involving on-site disposal is $80 million.

A freshwater lagoon in California.

Alternative three would be to install a permanent packaged water treatment plant at Mine Run reservoir which would be able to treat expected discharge for rainfalls of less than 36 inches per year. Such a plant, treating 200 gpm with lime, flocculation, sedimentation and sludge dewatering, would run for three to six months a year.

However, it would not meet the regulatory requirements of Title 23 regarding the closure of the mine operations, so, according to EBMUD, “the owners of Penn Mine (now apparently non-existent) would still be obligated for final closure of the mine workings. The owners would also be responsible for the costs of the water treatment facility,” $400,000 initially and $210,000 annually for operation.

The fourth alternative, “improved operation of existing system,” is the one officially favored by the utility. Its report on the alternatives states: “Assuming that EBMUD will be responsible for the continued operation of Mine Run Reservoir, and that the reservoir will not be closed under the provisions of the Toxic Pits Cleanup Act because of unacceptable environmental impacts, this alternative will incorporate best management practices to minimize releases of acid mine drainage to the Camanche reservoir.”

EBMUD proposes to begin with monitoring of water from Mine Run reservoir and possible seepage from mine shafts and diversion structures. It also proposes preparation of an overall water balance showing inflows and outflows during a one-year period, while conceding that “it is difficult to provide an accurate water balance because of lack of data …”

This alternative, though, seems unlikely to satisfy either the government entities or the private groups that are concerned with the Penn Mine problem. In view of this, McCord says, “I fully expect some sort of plant — perhaps a lime plant, because the whole thing is very acidic. Maybe we can neutralize it with lime slurry.”