Report: EPA, community relationship ‘troubled’

EPA wants to improve communication, but doesn’t plan to change hazard waste cleanup plans.

But unless new information is discovered, it likely won’t change how it plans to clean up the Tremont City Barrel Fill.

“We do think (the cleanup) is permanent and we do think it’s protective and we do think it’s a balance of all the criteria we have to look at,” said Joan Tanaka, branch manager for the U.S. EPA Region 5 Superfund program.

The U.S. EPA is also pursuing placing the 8.5-acre site in northern Clark County – currently a U.S. EPA Superfund Alternative site – on the National Priorities List, which would allow for federal and state money to be used to clean up the site.

The goal is to have the site listed within the next year.

Local officials have worked for years to change the proposed remediation plan at the Tremont City Barrel Fill, a closed landfill for industrial waste barrels that contains about 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste.

All local agencies want the barrels removed from the site, but the U.S. EPA has ruled in favor of a different clean-up plan that will cost significantly less: Dig up all of the barrels, remove the ones with liquid waste, add a liner and put the barrels filled with solid waste back in place.

Officials believe rainwater draining through the barrels could eventually contaminate the county’s drinking water as the barrel fill sits near the city’s aquifer. Any leakage could pose a risk to public health decades from now, officials said.

The immediate concern is to hear from and respond to the community, Tanaka said. She spoke with the Ohio EPA last week about sitting down with community stakeholders later this year.

“I’d like to do that as soon as we possibly can,” Tanaka said. “We want it to be science-based. Science isn’t easy. People have to get up to speed on the information. You have to get the right people at the table. To me, that’s the most important next step.”

Tanaka and site manager Jena Sleboda Braun spoke at the Celebrating and Protection our Water Supply forum on Monday at Wittenberg University. Other panelists included People for Safe Water’s Marilyn Welker and Peter Townsed, as well as Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson.

“We would like (Monday’s forum) to be the start of that process,” Tanaka said. “We’d like to get in the weeds a little, as they say, and get a group, a number of folks who can represent the community, in the weeds with good science. We can talk about this and do our best to bridge any gaps we might have.”

In 2010, area leaders believed the U.S. EPA would adopt the $56 million plan dubbed Alternative 4a, which would remove all of the waste from the site.

In 2011 the U.S. EPA issued its final decision, selecting a plan called Alternative 9a, which will cost about $28 million. That calls for digging up the barrels, extracting the liquid waste and then reburying the solid waste on-site in a lined landfill.

There are differences of opinion within the community about risk management decision-making and the nature of the hydrogeology on the site, according to the U.S. EPA. The decision to choose Alternative 9a was based on several criteria that includes complying with long-term protectedness, environmental regulations and cost-effectiveness, Tanaka said.

If new information is discovered during the design phase, Tanaka said, it could lead to changes in how the contamination is addressed at the site.

“It’s not uncommon to have that happen,” Tanaka said. “It’s usually new technical information about what’s the situation at the site, either with geology, the nature of the contamination we’re dealing with or the volume of the contamination.”

The U.S. EPA has been working on a proposal for the National Priorities List for the past several years, Tanaka said. The listing would provide a strong position in enforcing actions against responsible parties, but it’s also an “excellent fall back position” if they’re not successful.

“The site is assured to be cleaned up,” Tanaka said. “You don’t have to rely on cooperative responsible parties. It’s a great place to be if you want work done on your site.”

Last week, Joseph McMahon of Denver-based Collaborative Processes Inc., came to Springfield to meet with local stakeholders concerning the barrel fill’s cleanup plan to make recommendations to the U.S. EPA regarding community outreach.

The U.S. EPA has “very troubled” relationships with both the community and the Ohio EPA, according to a preliminary draft of the report obtained by the Springfield News-Sun. The level of conflict is high and the level of trust is low, McMahon says.

“I do not think this situation will ‘self correct’ — and will therefore either (i) continue indefinitely or (ii) will need substantial efforts aimed at conflict management and improved working relationships,” McMahon says in the report.

The forum was a “huge step” in improving communications, said Welker of People for Safe Water.

“I do think we’ve turned a corner,” Welker said.

The forum was presented by the Wittenberg geography department, which included 20 minutes of questions from community members. The conversation was constructive, Tanaka said, and they’re working hard to clean up the site in Clark County.

“People in my office know about your aquifer,” Tanaka said. “They really do. They know how important it is to keep it safe.”

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