Local residents have protested the project at five public meetings, and did so again on May 16.
"It just doesn't fit" in the park, said Lal Heneghan of Ashfield Road about the proposed project. "It could be done at other places."
Most of the speakers live near the park, and many complained that they also will bear the brunt of the construction of Atherton's new civic center and of Caltrain's electrification project. "You're doing everything to this side of town," Heneghan said.
"We hear you," said Mayor Cary Wiest. "We've heard the park is not the best location."
But other council members said a lot of misinformation has been spread about the project. "This project does not in any way adversely impact the recreational use of the park," council member Rick DeGolia said, noting that similar facilities have been built under other parks.
Council member Elizabeth Lewis said others have appeared to misunderstand the financing of the project, which is entirely from Caltrans and cannot be spent on other projects.
The project would also affect the use of only about 10 percent of the park during construction, not all of it, she said.
"I just think that some of the fears are overblown, and when it's all said and done, it's not going to be a problem," she said. However, she added, "my preference is not to put it in the park." She said the town is "working diligently" to find an alternative site.
Council member Mike Lempres said he was ready to rule out putting the project in the park, but City Attorney Bill Conners said the council couldn't vote on that subject because it wasn't on the agenda.
"I think there are real benefits to this," Lempres said. "I like the idea of cleaning the Bay whenever we can. I don't think, however, the park is the right location for this."
But council member Bill Widmer said he was "not in favor of eliminating (the park as an option) if it's our only choice." He said he's heard from residents in other parts of Atherton, and they don't understand why the town wouldn't allow Caltrans to pay for something the town's taxpayers would otherwise have to pay for. "I prefer not to take options off the table," he said.
Because Caltrans is required by the state water board to reduce the amount of pollutants in runoff water near its roadways, it has offered to pay for the facility in Atherton and other locations in the state. The town would be responsible only for future maintenance costs of the huge underground vaults and of any equipment associated with them.
The town, in a 2015 drainage master plan, had identified the need for storm water detention basins to reduce flooding risks.
Atherton also has a state mandate to reduce pollutants flowing to the Bay. The drainage master plan envisions large, slightly depressed grassy areas where water could be diverted in flood conditions. The facility Caltrans has offered to pay for is much more elaborate, diverting the water deep underground, and would require much less above-ground land area
A report from a Tetra Tech consultant at the meeting said measurements taken during a recent rainfall show the planned facility would be able to control a flood of the size that is projected to occur just once every 25 years downstream of the park. The project would also remove mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in amounts close to what is required of the town, the report says.
Measurements were taken after two rains, but the results of only one were available.
This story contains 738 words.
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