Sea World & Mission Bay: No Place to Play?

by on January 7, 2016 · 6 comments

in California, Culture, Environment, Health, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego, Sports

seaworld2A group called Save Everyone’s Access has filed suit, seeking to halt construction of SeaWorld’s Blue World Project. The proposed addition to the waterpark would incorporate a 50-foot-deep, 1.5-acre-wide, ten-million-gallon tank to house killer whales and a 40-foot below-grade viewing area for visitors.

According to a story by Dorian Hargrove in the Reader, the group is asking a judge to order the park to study the potential environmental impacts related to toxic waste buried in the area back when it was used as a city landfill.

“The toxic waste has never been removed or remediated,” reads the writ of mandate. “The city and Sea World know about the history of toxic waste disposal in the South [Mission Bay] area. The city and Sea World also know that the South Shores area produces subterranean methane and hydrogen sulfide gasses, some of which escapes into the atmosphere while some of the gasses concentrate in pockets beneath the surface. The landfill is not lined on the sides or bottom to prevent migration of toxic waste. The South Shores area, where not covered with hardscape, has a permeable earthen cap of approximately 15 feet in depth.”

If allowed to proceed with the Blue World Project, says the group, remnants of those heavy metals as well as methane and other gases will be released into the water and the air.

“The excavation will cause the release of toxic waste into Mission Bay. There is no plan for testing, treating, or removing the contaminated soils. [Save Everyone’s Access] has an interest in preventing further contamination of ground water subject to tidal flushing. [Save Everyone’s Access] also has an interest in seeing to it that the Project does not pose a threat to…members of the public through releases or combustion of toxic or volatile gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide.”

The use of the area as a landfill and its potential dangers was brought to light recently by OBRag editor Frank Gormlie in an article (reposted here, also) entitled Why SeaWorld Can’t Build a Hotel at its Location on Mission Bay.

The City, the Navy, and the aerospace industry all poured their waste or dumped barrels of toxins into unlined sand pits at the site, located between what’s now I-5, south to the San Diego River, north to the water of the Bay, and west into land now occupied by parking lots and … SeaWorld.

This is why SeaWorld cannot build a 3 story hotel and resort, as it wants to, next to Perez Cove. There’s an old toxic landfill within yards away. Any 3 story building, I am told by an engineer, would require at least one story underground and steel beams driven into the sandy soil down 30 feet. This excavation into what’s below could very well disturb toxic gases and who knows what else.

Publication of the article unleashed strong reactions, many of which amounted to little more than personal attacks on Gormlie.

PETA says this photo of 2014 Rose Parade arrest shows Paul McComb of SeaWorld, who went by Thomas Jones. (Via Times of San Diego)

PETA says this photo of 2014 Rose Parade arrest shows Paul McComb of SeaWorld, who went by Thomas Jones. (Via Times of San Diego)

A group calling itself Orca Action, with apparent support from the Evans Hotels, went so far as to create a WordPress page to ridicule his assertions, calling him a “self-proclaimed activist.” (He’s been active in community issues since 1970 and even ran for city council in 1987)

About the same time –and maybe this is a coincidence– inflammatory comments started appearing in the Rag, purportedly from this writer, author Judi Curry and even Gormlie himself. The comments were posted by spoofing the email addresses during the submission process. Given SeaWorld’s history of playing dirty (24,000 results on Google), it certainly seems reasonable to wonder about their potential connection in this situation.

This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

CK January 7, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I am the owner of Orca Action. The post was not meant to ridicule Mr. Gormlie’s article, but simply to provide facts and my opinions on the article. I am in no way related to SeaWorld (my blog is completely independent) and I have no connection to any harassing comments left on the OB Rag.

If you wish for further comment from me, please use my contact form at


B Ross January 9, 2016 at 8:05 am

The area you cite for the landfill in your article is not accurate either. Besides, the estimates for the size of the landfill are based on aerial photographs from that era. The City destroyed the majority of the records related to the landfill, which makes it impossible to prove either analysis correct.

The study of the dump site was undertaken in 2005, so why point to 2002 data?

The Reader, UT and other sources in 2006 showed an area that is bigger than what you show and smaller than the map from the OB Rag story. It includes part of the areas that are labelled “I-2 Exhibit/Ride/Show” and “A-1 Special Events Center” in your map.

Either way there is no debate that that landfill was unlined, and hence toxins could have migrated from the original landfill site in the 50+ years since the dump was closed. The study said it is probably safe as long as it is left alone. So in truth, neither of you know for sure.

There is also no debate that Ramada abandoned their planned hotel for the site in 1983 amid toxic concerns. The City tried to fast track approval of the project at the time by bringing in a consultant to do a quick study to vouch for the area’s safety.

The study came up with an estimate of the area for the landfill. They were wrong.

During excavation of South Shores Park in 1988 a pocket of hydrogen sulfide gas was released that sent a number of the workers to the hospital. Hydrogen sulfide was not even among the toxic wastes listed in the City’s fat-track study.

Reddish-orange seepage from the excavation site proved to be dichloroethane, TCA and carbon tetrachloride (a known carcinogen). The carbon tetrachloride concentrations were 900 times the EPA safe limit for drinking water.

In 2003 a triathlon was held that included swimming through the South Shores area. A number of triathletes experienced long-term gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses following this race. While there is no way to be certain, many felt it was due to toxins from the former dump site. This was also well covered in local mainstream media.

You better hope you are right about the hotel site not being affected. If you are wrong it could be disastrous for the workers if another pocket of toxic waste is exposed.

Supporters of SeaWorld make a big mistake attributing this opposition to “animal rights activists”. Gormlie is no animal rights activist and has no apparent connection to PETA, and neither do the majority of the neighborhood activists who oppose SeaWorld based on bad neighbor reasons. Things like the Prop-D referendum to build over 30 feet, the fireworks, SeaWorld drive traffic, dumping whale feces into Mission Bay, etc. Some people just have a longer memory I suppose.

PETA is full of attention-seekers and their tactics and protests make them standout from others. It is easy to tell them apart from neighborhood activists. If SeaWorld supporters spent more time listening to real concerns and less time trying to infiltrate and discredit groups with valid concerns maybe they would have more support.


Frank Gormlie January 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Thank you, Mr. Ross. I do like animals – I have 4 cats- , however, but am not a member of PETA or any organized group currently that opposes SeaWorld. I was co-chair of OBGO, the OB Grassroots Organization, that pushed the City to study the old landfill. And I was on the Technical Advisory Committee that oversaw the half million study by consultants hired by the City, and under the direction of then-Councilwoman Donna Frey.


B Ross January 11, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Well thank you for publishing my comment. I first made my comment on the Kalia SeaWorld blog and then repeated it here. They refused to publish my comment. So much for “CK” caring about the facts.


Frank Gormlie January 8, 2016 at 10:40 am

Watch this space.


Marc Snelling January 9, 2016 at 10:18 am

Well if an anonymous blogger says it, it must be true, Mr/Mrs ‘CK’ Classy Kalia. Why the pseudonym Kalia? Someone else already blogging as Tilikum?


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