During the first week of March, a California state agency will start digging trenches and installing monitoring wells at the city of Lodi's former landfill site that borders the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the Mokelumne Village subdivision.
The site, which is at the end of Awani Drive, was used as a dump until the 1940s, and it borders the Mokelumne River. The state is paying to install the equipment and will monitor the wells for about a year, city spokesman Jeff Hood said.
They are primarily concerned that methane gas in the soil can be dangerous in large quantities, Hood said.
Questions about the property surfaced when the city held a forum in August about the possibility of opening it up for public access.
Figuring out if it is contaminated is the first step to see if the land could be used for public access or if it could be sold for development, Hood said.
"Does it stay vacant or gated forever? Eventually, we have to decide it if is useable at some point," Hood said.
The San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department, which is the local enforcement agency for landfills, started encouraging the monitoring process after the August meeting, Hood said. The department contacted the state's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery or CalRecycle because they have funds available to investigate contamination at old landfills.
At the end of the year, CalRecycle could either say that the property is not contaminated or issue an order requesting a cleanup of methane gas, Hood said.
The city could be on the hook for some expenses associated with a cleanup, but Hood said CalRecycle also has grants available for cleanups.
Regardless, city staff agree that it is time to at least know if there is contamination on the property, Hood said.
"The liability won't go away if we put our heads in the sand. If it's our liability, at some point we are going to have to own up to it," Hood said.
CalRecycle is also working with property owners in the River Pointe subdivision, which is west of the tracks. The agency would also like to install three monitoring wells there and put a trench in one of their vacant lots to see if there is any contamination that migrated from the landfill.
Hood gave a presentation on the monitoring at a Recreation Commission meeting Tuesday night.
Mokelumne Village resident Joan Morrison said homeowners are concerned about construction on a site with a possible history of toxic waste and contamination.
"We were concerned with what would happen if the land was disturbed, which I guess is what we are going to do," Morrison said.
Another home owner, Bonnie Raingruber, said she feels like Mokelumne Village is being singled out, because the city is focusing on putting river access at that location. She said at least one other subdivision, Rivergate, was also required to provide access to the Mokelumne River, but the city allowed them to close it in 1980.
Raingruber did say she is interested in the results of what is contained in the landfill.
Commission member Barbara Wardrobe-Fox, who was elected commission chair Tuesday night, said it is good that the city is at least finding out if there is contamination on the property.
"It's better that we review it and know what's going on than just leave the elephant in the room," she said.
To see a copy of the CalRecycle's plans for the project, go to www.lodi.gov/landfill.