I-Team Hazardous work conditions reported at national park project

POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif. (KGO) -- There's controversy surrounding the cleanup of Drakes Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore. A former employee, who worked on the project, contacted the I-Team claiming the cleanup of the oyster farm harmed him and endangered other workers.

The U.S. Department of the Interior shut the farm down more than two years ago. The National Park Service started tearing out the farm's oyster racks this year. This diver says he ended up with chemical burns while working on the project because the government didn't do enough to protect him and others.

Drakes Estero in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore is one of the most beautiful places on the West Coast.

RELATED: National Park Service to restore location where Drakes Bay Oyster once was

Look closely and you'll see what construction workers have been up to for the last couple months, pulling up the remnants of one of the state's oldest oyster farms.

After a fight that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the farm closed in December 2015.

The National Park Services and some environmentalists hailed it as a new dawn for the estero, a returning it to wilderness. But a former worker says the company tasked with pulling out the oyster racks put employees at risk. Diver Matthew Zugsberger was hired to help remove the hundreds of oyster racks that lined the estero.

"I was under the impression that this was kind of an important job," said Zugsberger.

"You know a lot of things had to be in order from environmental issues all the way to safety issues and that there were a lot of eyes on this project," added Zugsberger.

Zugsberger says he quickly found things that concerned him. He was particularly concerned about the lack of safety equipment and possible exposure to chemicals used on those old wood pilings that held the oyster racks.

RELATED: Drakes Bay Oyster company shuts down shack

He also says he suffered chemical burns from pulling out those old oyster racks.

"I did receive grade two, grade three chemical burns on my hips and on my chest and my torso," said Zugberger.

He was so concerned about the overall safety of the project he complained to the federal government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, late last year.

In November, OSHAinspectors cited Galindo Construction, the sub-contractor handling the job for seven "serious" violations."

Among them:

Failure "... to ensure that frequent and regular inspections of the job site..."

It didn't provide workers "... Coast Guard-approved life jacket(s)."

OSHA said it failed to "... ensure employees were free from impalement hazards of pressured treated lumber..."

RELATED: Drakes Bay Oyster company finally closes shop

There were "... no working horns on a floating barge..." and "... employees were exposed to, struck or run over by equipment."

OSHA also reported that a lack of guard rails raised the risk that employees could drown. "...employees were exposed to drowning."

There wasn't even "an adequate toilet facility aboard a floating barge."

"So all human feces and urine was going back into the estero," said Zugsberger.

Galindo Construction did not respond to our repeated requests for an interview.

But the National Park Service did. Park spokesman John Dell'Osso said in a statement, "the contractor corrected these findings immediately. OSHA did not make any findings with respect to the handling or disposal of treated lumber." adding, "all methods related to the project work were permitted and approved by the regulatory agencies."

Zugsberger says he was fired days after reporting the problems to OSHA and still hasn't been paid for work he's done on the job.

Galindo construction has disputed the amount he's owed and has also filed a temporary restraining order against Zugsberger, claiming he made threats towards their employees. Zugsberger denies the claim.

Written and Produced by Ken Miguel.
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