Public Works Community Media History

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Public Works Director Jordan Rich and oil barrels
Public Works director Jordan Rich examines drums of waste oil stored at Corporation Yard
City Public Works site laced with toxic waste
Andrew Brandt, Daily Californian April 21, 1992

City site laced with toxic waste Residents tour lot, assail Berkeley for poor operation Group says city's fuel yard poses environmental risk

A newly formed West Berkeley neighborhood group is assailing the city for a "lack of environmental concern" regarding the operation of its corporation yard. The corporation yard, located at 1325 Bancroft Way in the heart of a residential area of West Berkeley, is where all city vehicles are fueled, maintained and stored when not in use.

The city has come under fire for years from neighbors and environmentalists who say the yard is so poorly maintained that toxic materials seep unabated into the surrounding ground. The latest group to enter the fray is the Bancroft Guardian Coalition, which organized a tour of the yard yesterday for city officials and neighbors, In attendance were City Councilmember Mary Wainwright, Public Works Director Jordan Rich, Toxics Management Coordinator Denise Johnston and officials from the facility itself.

In a statement issued last Tuesday, the Bancroft Guardian Coalition called for a "complete re-evaluation of the physical operations of the corporation yard and its impact on the west of Sacramento Street area.

"As residents, we offer direction to the city as to how it might become a 'good neighbor."

Oil and gasoline stored on the site in containers which leak after an extended period of time have the coalition particularly concerned. Members cite an example buried under the site -- four unused steel gasoline and diesel storage tanks which a 1987 Planning and Community Development Department environmental impact survey recommended for removal.

During the tour, more than 20 neighbors and coalition members, some with infants in strollers, followed Rich around the yard as he inspected various locations reported to have been sites of toxic spills or areas of concern.

L A Wood and residents speaking with Public Works director Jordan Rich 1992Rich and corporation yard Equipment Manager Kirby Chung sought to allay fears that the storage tanks pose a danger to the public. "There are two 10,000 gallon, fiber-glass, double-walled tanks now used to store unleaded and diesel fuel in the yard," Chung said, adding that the newer tanks are electronically monitored every month for leaks.

"A phase one study (of the old tanks) has just been completed," said Rich, who told the group around him that the report had just come in that morning, and that he had not had time to read it before the tour.

The first phase of the study tried to determine whether a problem exists from leaking remnants of gasoline, or if any contamination had leached into the surrounding soil. "The city has already begun to address the pollution issue at the corp yard," said Tamlyn Bright, a member of the Citizen's Environmental Action Commission.

Bright said the most recent action by her commission was to recommend the city manager hire someone immediately to clean up the toxic waste in the yard.

Beside the threat of air and ground pollution from storage tanks, noise and automobile traffic resulting from the yard's daily operation have also ignited the coalition's ire. Neighbors of the site also worry about the use of a city-owned vacant lot across the street from the yard. Last week, a large pile of soil and asphalt suddenly appeared in the center of the lot, leaving some suspicious about the material's origin and properties.

Residents Dan Horodysky, Wood and others repeatedly requested that the city remove the soil and build a "green area" on the site.

"It seems like the city is more interested in building volleyball courts and blacktop basketball courts. We want some green area," Wood said.

Residents also angrily criticized corporation yard employees who park their cars on neighboring streets due to a lack of on-site parking.

"Even people who work at City Hall park around here and make the walk to work to avoid tickets," said Millard Collins, who has lived near the site for 32 years.

After the tour, Wainwright praised neighbors for raising concerns about the corporation yard. "We're glad that you were here to get on our backs to keep us on our toes," she said.

Sound Protest
William Brand, Oakland Tribune, September 25, 1992

Gerald Moreno, wife Nancy Hunt and their 2-year-old son Andrew are disenchanted with the City of Berkeley corporation yard, which houses trucks that expel noise and pollution into Bancroft Way, where they reside. The city says it cannot afford to construct a sound wall to insulate the neighborhood.

banner on house "Keep the Promise Build the Wall"
Banner draped West Berkeley corporation yard area residence...
"KEEP THE PROMISE
BUILD THE WALL"

Neighbors to city: clean up! Sloppiness at city maintenance yard provokes local ire
Karen Armstead, Daily Californian, May 26, 1993

The city of Berkeley has come under fire recently from neighbors of its maintenance yard who confronted city officials about cleaning up and organizing the facility.

Neighbors of city's corporation yard, at 1326 Allston Way, say that although Berkeley improved the yard after previous complaints, the facility still endangers and inconveniences the public.

Local resident L A Wood led about 20 community members on a tour of the yard Friday, citing fuel spills and inadequate waste disposal as potential hazards.

Wood said abuses such as those at corporation yard would not be tolerated in other areas of the city. "West Berkeley has historically been shortchanged," he said.

Public works officials must continually cooperate with neighbors to ensure that the public is not endangered or inconvenienced, Wood added.

While conducting the 45-minute tour, Wood pointed out numerous improvements in yard operations since he lead a tour of the site last year. He added he became concerned about poor waste disposal at the site while playing ball with his son. When he went into the yard to retrieve the bail, he found it covered with oil, Wood said.

The oil, which was previously kept in leaky, exposed 55-gallon drums, is now stored safely, he added. According to Wood, however, the city still has more to do.

Toni Horodysky, who lives near the yard, said she complained to the city 10 years ago about piles of fine construction sand left uncovered to blow in the wind. She said dust from the sand ended up in her house creating "a health hazard for all of us and for the employees," she said. She added that the city covered the mounds when she complained, but later started leaving the tarps off. During the Friday's tour, the sand remained uncovered.

Acting Public Works Director Vicki Elmer, who took the tour said in a later interview the mounds will be covered shortly.

Health and safety guidelines, however, are still not observed at the gasoline pumps for city vehicles. Wood claimed. He said a refueling truck recently slopped "enough gasoline to reach to the edge of the corporation yard." As the spill occurred early in the morning, yard officials were not present to contain it properly, he said.

"This is an extreme fire hazard if somebody walks by with a lit cigarette," said Wood, adding that holding tanks should only be refueled during working hours.

"We take spills very seriously," said Elmer, who oversees the yard. She assured Wood his concern was reasonable and could be easily remedied with little additional funding from the city. Wood said he would like to see greater "consolidation' in the yard before next year's tour. He said the cities' other yard, on Second Street, is underused.

Corpyard Cleanup May Wait for Advanced Technology
Shannon Morgan,  Berkeley Voice, September 9, 1993

Plans to excavate 1,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil at the city's corporation yard this month have been scrapped in favor of removing toxins through new technology.

The city had decided more than three years ago to go ahead with remediation of the soil around underground gasoline storage tank areas in order to comply with Bay Area Regional Water Quality requirements.

But with a cost of $250,000, potential health threats from fumes and disruption to the surrounding residential neighborhood, the Public Works Department and Toxic Management Program are now recommending that the city use a bio-venting method to remove the toxins without excavating the soil.

"It's not the least bit disruptive and there's no safety hazards about it. It seems like a much more reasonable approach," said project manager, Jeff Egeberg, manager of engineering.

Under the method, an underground well would placed in the middle of the contaminated soil and would be connected to a pump and blower apparatus the size of an office desk that would sit aboveground.

The pump would release oxygen into the soil which would then migrate through the soil and activate microorganisms to decompose contaminates into harmless materials.

At a cost of $10 per cubic yard, rather than $250 per cubic yard for excavation, city staff say the method is not only more efficient but would save the city $240,000 if the city council approves the plan later this month.

Egeberg said city staff began to reexamine the issue in light of disruption from 250 truckloads of soil out of the west Berkeley neighborhood, possible health threats to city employees and neighbors from toxic fumes and the requirement to move the city's fleet of maintenance vehicles in order to complete the job.

Area residents, who have been actively pushing for the removal of toxins from their neighborhood for the last two years, have said they would welcome the change of plans, according to community organizer L A Wood.

"The community was concerned about the disruption that would be caused by excavation. We don't want the city to spend $250,000 if they don't have to and it fits into the scheme of what Toxics Management and the Regional Water Quality Board require," Wood said.

Wood is one who has worked hard to ensure the removal of contaminates, but also wants to make sure that doing so doesn't cause more harm than good.

"They said there was going to be this odor from excavation with a lot of chemicals floating around in the air, because they were going to pile the soil up and let it the contaminates evaporate before moving it off-site," he said.

While the new method would eliminate air pollution, Wood said he is waiting for a report from the city on its impact.

"I wanted to know more about it. The fact that Berkeley has other such systems operating right now is encouraging," he said.

Egeberg confirmed that private industries are using the method as a cheap and effective alternative to moving tons of dirt.

"Alternative methods of treating soil in place have come a long way. We've met with an expert in environmental programs who advised that this is a good candidate of bio-venting," he said.

Neighbor's Video Reveals Problems at City Corporation Yard
William Brand,  Oakland Tribune, March 19, 1995

For years residents around the city's maintenance yard on Bancroft Way in West Berkeley have complained about the noise and traffic created by hundreds of official cars and trucks zooming in and out to refuel, for repairs and just to park.

But the situation never changed until L A Wood, who lives across Bancroft from the yard, and his friend, Carolyn Erbele, made a video.

Neither are professional filmmakers, but the 12 minute production, filmed by Erbele and narrated by Wood, tells its story effectively. It traces the history of the city's 4.9 acre corporation yard from the day it opened in 1916 to accommodate Berkeley's first truck. It was a time when the city staff numbered 150, including a blacksmith and many horses.

Today, Wood says in the video, there are more than 500 city vehicles (and 1,500 employees) and a 24-hour fueling station. The video graphically shows city trucks belching smoke and turning the adjacent quiet residential streets into noisy corridors.

The videomakers solutions: reduce trips, extend a West Berkeley electric bus route to include the yard so employees can ride to work and move the fueling station to the more isolated Second Street transfer station.

Out to lunch

So far, the video has been played to the City Council and many times on the community cable access station, Channel 25.

And the situation has started to change.

First, 40 gardeners, who used to drive their trucks out of the yard, every morning, come back every noon for lunch, then drive out again for the afternoon's work, stopped coming back for lunch. Now, according to Berkeley Public Works Director Vicki Elmer, drivers of several of the yard's largest trucks have stopped coming back for lunch.

Elmer confesses than when she first heard about a video being made about the city yard, she was nervous. "But it wasn't hostile. It was very supportive to us," Elmer said. "We had been thinking about ways to improve productivity in the face of tight budgets," she said.

The videomakers' idea of reducing trips meshed perfectly with the city's effort to be more efficient.

Got their attention

By cutting out the trip to the yard for lunch, the city saves 45 minutes of transit time per gardener, Elmer said. That's between a 12 and 18 percent improvement. And, of course, we cut out more than 40 trips a day in and 40 trips out of the yard. So that's a help to the neighborhood.

Not bad for out of pocket costs of $300, Wood and Erbele say with sly smiles. The video was their third; the first covered storm water runoff, the second took a shot at UC-Berkeley's now-abandoned plan to put a toxic waste storage facility in Strawberry Canyon.

Wood said they decided to do the video out of frustration. I talked until I was blue in the face about this at open mike at the City Council," he said. "They don't really want to hear from anyone."

"When we showed the video, Mayor (Shirley) Dean even said, 'This is the most innovative use of open mike time.'"

"That's why we did it. We got their attention."

Traffic in Transit (1995) Transportation plan for Berkeley's Corporation Yard, Public Works' fleet operations, and trip reduction. Examines the existing burden on the surrounding neighborhood of 450 vehicles fueling at the Corp Yard and the high cost of such a policy.

Activist lauded for raising awareness
Marc Albert,  Berkeley Voice, June 18, 1998

Community activist L A Wood was officially recognized for his achievements by the Public Works Department at their quarterly meeting last week, receiving a plaque honoring him for raising environmental awareness in city government. The honor is a turnaround for Wood, who claims to be the victim of ill-will from some members of thePublic Works Commission.

"The commission is very, very wary of the community around the corp yard," he said.

On a tour of Public Works' Corporation Yard at Acton and Allston streets several years ago, Wood captured a Public Works crew on video dumping a street sweeping truck's load into a storm sewer. The incident, and Wood's video footage caused an uproar amongst bureaucrats and activists,

"A public works director from Marin wrote me and said he showed my movie to all the guys on the crew and told them, "hey, you don't want to be a star in a film like this," Wood said.

Wood began watching and documenting Public Works practices when he moved into his Bancroft Avenue home, and developed some management ideas of his own.

"I made them more conscious of their environmental contamination and the need to clean up," he said. Another idea wood mentioned-alternative fuels-is taking shape. City Manager James Keene won City Council approval last week to operate a compressed natural gas fueling station at the Transfer Station, Natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline.

Berkeley was granted $263,00 9 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to purchase vehicles powered by natural gas which will replace gasoline powered ones. The filling station to be run by Trillium USA will exist mainly for city vehicles. The station will pay no rent, and will charge set rates. Private vehicles getting natural gas from the station will pay a three-cent a gallon surcharge to the city.

Wood says he fought for and won a stop sign, preventing what he described as speeding city vehicles on their way downtown. "They are still grappling with the same problems when they moved here in 1916 auto use in the city.

Wood pointing out that Berkeley operates a fleet of 500 vehicles."What they fuel and where they fuel it, I asked that question, where do the trucks go... they thought they were saving money by not filling up at private stations, but they are wasting time and gas fueling up at the corp yard."

Some city vehicles are now stored and fueled near the Transfer Station on 2nd Street. Wood favors studying de-centralizing the corp yard, because he said having vehicle close to where they are needed may save gasoline. However, with the soaring costs of realestate, the idea may not be well received.

Wood recently produced a short video chronicling shifting challenges the Public Works Department has faced throughout the century. Wood praised the 1929 placement of a hand operated gas pump with an electric one. The new pump, though expensive, saved 3 worker-hours a day, freeing up employees for other tasks. Wood also identified the redesign of trucks as another example of increasing worker productivity.

Wood encouraged rank and file involvement in decision making on equipment purchases. Wood said it made sense to solicit input about reliability and performance from those using the machines.

Officials Order City Gas Tank Shut
Marc Albert,  Berkeley Voice, November 26, 1998

City officials reopened the municipal fueling station at the Second Street Transfer Station Monday after removing a problematic gasoline tank. The action brings up the larger sleeper issue of where to fuel Berkeley's fleet of 500 publicly owned vehicles.

Community Activist L A Wood has been fighting City Hall for six years asking officials to study new locations for fueling. Wood complains that the Public Works Corporation Yard lies in the midst of a residential area and hundreds of city vehicles rumble through to fuel up.

Wood has recommended officials enlarge the Transfer Station gas tank and have its use take over some of the traffic from the Corp Yard. The traffic would then be on Gilman Street, a major thoroughfare and not residential streets.

Public Works Director Andreus Kreutzer, however, maintains Wood's plan would not work, noting that the intersection lacks a traffic light. Kreutzer said the unsignaled intersection makes entry and exit from the Transfer Station difficu1t. "Probably a third of the fleet go to Second Street every day," counters Wood. "They are down there anyway, so why can't they fuel then? The argument doesn't stand."

Wood has campaigned against the repair of the smaller tank calling it "Penny wise, but pound foolish," and demands that the city replace it with one 10 times larger. The activist may have hit a stumbling block. Instead of sharing fueling operations, now all gasoline powered vehicles will be going to the Corp Yard.

According to officials, many buildings at the Corporation Yard are made of un-reinforced masonry, necessitating yet another multi-million dollar seismic retrofit. A plan was floated several years ago to relocate the Corp Yard to a new facility at the lower Harrison Tract. Lower Harrison was recently approved for a soccer field. Under the rejected proposal the current yard would have been turned into a field if Harrison became the new Yard.

Officials also proposed contracting out refueling to a private contractor, purchasing an abandoned gas station, or negotiating a discount deal with an oil company to fuel city vehicles from ordinary gas stations.

Wood complained that no conclusive study has been undertaken to find out where city vehicles go and where the most efficient location for a fueling station is. Wood worries that the city wastes fuel simply making extra trips to the corp yard to fuel up.

If a long-term solution remains to be seen, officials did act decisively this week. Public Works officials brought the Transfer Station's diesel filling station online and abandoned the 1000 gallon gasoline tank.

"The tank has been shut down," said Berkeley's Toxics Division Director Nabil Al-Hadithy. "I don't think there is a plan to replace it. They had a plan to upgrade it, but it failed when they yanked it out of the ground. My inspector said it looked quite good but we took the prudent step of not allowing them to upgrade it," he said. Al-Hadithy said the gasoline tank failed a pressure test.

"Naturally, the fleet of diesel trucks couldn't get in there with the excavation. They couldn't wait for new city permits for the gasoline tank." The diesel tanks fuel city garbage trucks.

Residents Gather, Voice Qualms Regarding Yard
Gagan Nanda,  Daily Californian, November 22, 2000

Berkeley residents chipped in their share of community service by attending a neighborhood tour yesterday afternoon in an area of West Berkeley famous for its pollution.

The tour sponsored by the Public Works Department, covered the entire premises of the city's corporation yard, where all city vehicles are fueled, maintained, and stored.

Concerns arose from the Berkeley residents who attended the event that authorities have been practicing bad hazardous waste management and storage at the yard, leading to bad air quality, noise pollution and traffic congestion.

One local resident said he wanted extra assurances from the city that the yard would be cleaned and is not so hazardous.

"We need the (city's) toxic waste management to come in December and give a statement of approval," said L A Wood. "The Public Works Department has to look professional, and the yard cannot remain the last place in town to be swept."

Called a "rock and gravel yard" the yard," the yard's maintenance has been neglected over the past months, resulting in piles of waste and improper storage of dangerous chemicals, nearby residents said. Since the yard is not properly cared for, it contributes to the unhealthy air pollution levels in the industrial and residential neighborhood -- incurring the wrath of those residents who have to face the yard daily.

"I have to live with so much noise and dust," said Toni Horodysky, who lives on near the site. "They fill their trucks with gravel for two hours and leave the tailgates open. The drivers are so bad, they run over stop signs.

Other concerns raised by the residents included excessive graffiti on nearby walls, unwanted weeds on fences and loud, blaring messages on the public intercom system.

Patrick Keilch, deputy director of the Public Works Corporation stressed that the yard was the lowest priority level for corporate funding, and that this hindered progress of otherwise sound plans to improve its quality.

"We envision installing a beautiful fence around the yard but outside funding is very limited," he said. "We have sent our trucks several times to (the landfill on) Second Street, but they simply do not let us dump the waste there."

Residents Miffed with Allston Way Corporation Yard
Juliet Leyra,  Berkeley Daily Planet, November 24 2000

Neighbors of the Allston Way Corporation Yard are asking for peace and quiet. More than a dozen residents, gathered at the yard Tuesday to voice concerns and discuss solutions to problems surrounding the city's operations center-- they want less traffic, pollution and noise.

The community group submitted a list of demands to the yard manager and the group's leader, L A. Wood, took city officials and nearby residents on a tour of the facility to point out the changes they hoped to achieve.

The Corporation Yard, located at 1326 Allston Way, adjacent to Strawberry Creek Park, is used by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, the Berkeley Police Department and road and sewer maintenance crews. The yard houses city utility trucks, a fueling station, old park benches, gravel and dirt, and many other maintenance and repair items used on a regular basis.

Resident Toni Horodysky, who has lived across the park from the yard for more than 25 years, complained that the yard is too noisy, creates too much pollution and houses too many large trucks.

"We're long suffering here. We've been hashing and rehashing these issues for years. It's time to take action."

The three-page wish list of changes residents presented to officials includes the construction of new landscaped walls along the entire perimeter, noise reduction, elimination of long-term storage of rusted, rotten and unusable material, and a semi-annual yard cleanup.

Residents also asked for safety measures such as adherence to established traffic flow patterns, reduction of "driving in reverse" which produces a loud beeping noise from most city trucks and consolidation of hazardous waste materials, which includes cleaning solvent.

Yard manager Patrick Keilch agreed with most of the recommendations the residents made but said he was confused and concerned with the way they approached the meeting. "The thing that disturbs me is that people are not focusing on the facts. That takes away from what we really need to get done."

During the course of the tour Wood a longtime yard watchdog, made several allegations that the yard had recently been cited by the District Attorney's Office for hazardous waste violations. He also suggested that the underground storage tanks were not in compliance with city and state regulations and suggested that they pose a serious risk to the neighborhood and city at large.

Keilch asserted, however, that no charges were flied against the yard for noncompliance with city and state laws.

"As for the storage tanks, those are doubled-walled state-of-the-art tanks. They're as good as or better than any tank anywhere in the U.S.," Keilch said. In addition, he said that he felt unprepared for the meeting that was organized by Wood,

"I had no knowledge that Wood had canvassed the neighborhood with fliers or contacted the media. I had to scramble at the last minute to get staff together to help answer questions and if I had known I would have prepared a fact sheet"

Keilch added that he has an open door policy and that he welcomes suggestions and comments. "We should all be open and up front about what's going on."

Keilch said that many of the problems could be addressed at a fairly low cost and that he is willing to work with the city and community.

"This is the first I've heard that there were concerns. I haven't had a call regarding any of these issues in two years. I want to get these issues taken care of," he said.

Conflicts in the west Berkeley neighborhood between the yard and residents began prior to 1992. Since that time the city has constructed a partial wall with landscaping and cleaned up the yard considerably, but neighbors say that is not enough. They are asking the city to re-address many of the same issues brought up nearly 10 years ago, such as noise control and traffic.

Wood is calling for the creation of a review board to ensure that complaints and possible violations are monitored and addressed in a timely manner.

"What we need is an environmental management and review board or committee to ensure that the city follow through on every single complaint and possible code violation," he said.

Keilch said that he would like to build a wall around the entire facility as well as address the noise issue and will be taking steps to make improvements in that direction. But, he was less confidant that he could reduce the number of vehicles stored at the site because city-owned space is limited.

"There is a silver lining to all of this. We may have a better chance of getting the resources to do some of this stuff with Wood and the residents behind us."

Officials Order City Gas Tank Shut Down
Marc Albert,  Berkeley Voice, November 26, 1998

City officials reopened the municipal fueling station at the Second Street Transfer Station Monday after removing a problematic gasoline tank. The action brings up the larger sleeper issue of where to fuel Berkeley's fleet of 500 publicly owned vehicles.

Community Activist L A Wood has been fighting City Hall for six years asking officials to study new locations for fueling. Wood complains that the Public Works Corporation Yard lies in the midst of a residential area and hundreds of city vehicles rumble through to fuel up.

Wood has recommended officials enlarge the Transfer Station gas tank and have its use take over some of the traffic from the Corp Yard. The traffic would then be on Gilman Street, a major thoroughfare and not residential streets.

Public Works Director Andreus Kreutzer, however, maintains Wood's plan would not work, noting that the intersection lacks a traffic light. Kreutzer said the unsignaled intersection makes entry and exit from the Transfer Station difficu1t. "Probably a third of the fleet go to Second Street every day," counters Wood. "They are down there anyway, so why can't they fuel then? The argument doesn't stand."

Wood has campaigned against the repair of the smaller tank calling it "Penny wise, but pound foolish," and demands that the city replace it with one 10 times larger. The activist may have hit a stumbling block. Instead of sharing fueling operations, now all gasoline powered vehicles will be going to the Corp Yard.

According to officials, many buildings at the Corporation Yard are made of un-reinforced masonry, necessitating yet another multi-million dollar seismic retrofit. A plan was floated several years ago to relocate the Corp Yard to a new facility at the lower Harrison Tract. Lower Harrison was recently approved for a soccer field. Under the rejected proposal the current yard would have been turned into a field if Harrison became the new Yard.

Officials also proposed contracting out refueling to a private contractor, purchasing an abandoned gas station, or negotiating a discount deal with an oil company to fuel city vehicles from ordinary gas stations.

Wood complained that no conclusive study has been undertaken to find out where city vehicles go and where the most efficient location for a fueling station is. Wood worries that the city wastes fuel simply making extra trips to the corp yard to fuel up.

If a long-term solution remains to be seen, officials did act decisively this week. Public Works officials brought the Transfer Station's diesel filling station online and abandoned the 1000 gallon gasoline tank.

"The tank has been shut down," said Berkeley's Toxics Division Director Nabil Al-Hadithy. "I don't think there is a plan to replace it. They had a plan to upgrade it, but it failed when they yanked it out of the ground. My inspector said it looked quite good but we took the prudent step of not allowing them to upgrade it," he said. Al-Hadithy said the gasoline tank failed a pressure test.

"Naturally, the fleet of diesel trucks couldn't get in there with the excavation. They couldn't wait for new city permits for the gasoline tank." The diesel tanks fuel city garbage trucks.


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