A state water board has won the right from a federal judge in Sacramento to join a legal battle over a group of decaying ships known as the "Mothball Fleet" in Suisun Bay.
The 57 decommissioned military and cargo ships, some used in World War II and the Korean War, are anchored near Benicia. They are part of the Naval Defense Reserve Fleet, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Maritime Administration, but have been declared obsolete.
Three environmental groups that sued the Maritime Administration last year say that deteriorating lead-based paint and heavy metals from the hulls of the ship are polluting the bay.
A trial on the lawsuit is scheduled for March 9, 2010, in the court of U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell in Sacramento.
Last week, Burrell signed an order allowing the California Regional Water Quality Board for the San Francisco Bay Region to join the case on the side of the environmental groups.
The board had asked for permission to join the case in order to carry out its role of protecting the waters of the bay.
Regional water board executive officer Bruce Wolfe said, "While we would rather the (Maritime) Administration take proper action without the need to go to court, the administration has accomplished little over the past two years."
Wolfe said, "We are optimistic our action to intervene will bring the administration to the table and start work to stop the pollution these vessels cause."
The board said pollutants shed by the ships into Suisun Bay include mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium, PCBs and asbestos.
Wolfe said that a 2007 report by the Maritime Administration on 40 of the vessels concluded that 20 tons of heavy metals had been discharged from their hulls into the Bay.
The three groups that filed the lawsuit in October 2007 include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Arc Ecology and San Francisco Baykeeper.
At the time the case was filed, Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton said the agency believed the best way to protect the Suisun Bay was to remove the ships in "as timely a manner as possible."