Wells is the senior geologist for Geomatrix Consultants Inc. the firm that has done the earthquake fault investigations for this project. He has been evaluating geologic and seismic hazards for 19 years, including participating in and managing studies done for UC (for the last 14 years), Mills College, Fremont City Hall, and the Kensington Fire Station. He is responsible for the day-to-day management of projects for Geomatrix, and has a lead role in conducting the technical work, interpreting the data, and preparing reports.
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South Trench Location
Credentials aside, we found him this morning in boots, jeans, and work gear, sitting beside the new trench, notebook in hand, taking notes on work progress to date.
The 20 foot trench is about 15 feet deep - as deep as their backhoe can work - and, according to Wells, deep enough to reveal the information needed about possible fault traces. The trenching work is finished, so the "faces" of the trench can now be surveyed for the needed data.
Wells said that the site work will be done in a few weeks - including the bore holes that have yet to be drilled at the north end of the stadium - but that data analysis and report preparation could take up to two months to complete. He added that as soon as data gathering is finished they would have a good intuitive sense of what the final results will be, but won't be free to talk about those until the final report is prepared.
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Earthquake Testing Announcement
We discussed the USGS letter that was received by the City of Berkeley on December 5th, a day before the Regents certified the project EIR that was supposed to have covered all project risks. The letter expressed some uncertainly about Geomatrix's interpretation of the data developed from the first set of trenches and bore holes, saying that perhaps more data was needed to be sure that the interpretation applied to the furthest reaches of the project footprint - the northeast and southeast corners of the crescent-shaped-building that will curve around the perimeter of the stadium almost from end to end.
I asked if the USGS representatives had been present when the original work was done - and if so, why they had not expressed their reservations at that time. Wells explained that the USGS letter was in response to the Geomatrix interpretation of the data - which emerged late in the process - not to the trenching work or investigation methods employed. He also said he thought the City of Berkeley had "leaned" on the USGS - asking them to make a definitive statement about Geomatrix' interpretation - which led to the letter expressing concerns about the remote corners of the project.
I asked Wells about the declaration filed by Robert Curry with the court that contested Geomatrix findings. Curry is a Geology professor who has retired from his work at UC Santa Cruz. Without going into specifics, Wells asserted that Curry was not a specialist in relevant areas, and was flat out wrong in some of his analysis and conclusions. Curry might be expected to feel differently about that, of course.
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Fault Investigation Trench
Wells also described at least one of Curry's recommendations as being rather unusual, saying that it would require a hole as big as Memorial Stadium to be dug at the north end of the stadium - and require dynamiting to reach Franciscan formations to look for faults millions of years old. Wells admiited that that would be a lot of fun to do - "boys like dynamite", he said - but that it would not be relevant to discovering currently active faults.
Resolving conflicting technical testimony has to be difficult for a judge who must weigh testimony in areas where she has little expertise. I asked Wells how a judge can do that. He said he had never been in court before on cases like this, so speculated that weighing the relevant experience of those who testify would be one consideration.
Wells also pointed out that the USGS letter did not in fact disagree with any of the central conclusions of the Geomatrix work, rather it just pointed out areas where further data would be useful. He said he expected that when the new data was weighed, the USGS would arrive at the same conclusions about faulting as would Geomatrix - and that the USGS testimony to that effect would lend weight to the Geomatrix claims in court. Thus the USGS which initially raised concerns about the project may ultimately be important in certifying the project's geologic safety in ways the judge can understand.
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