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$24M Clark County barrel fill clean-up plan may move forward


Local elected officials and community activists are now backing a new version of a clean-up plan at the Tremont City Barrel Fill site in northern Clark County.

After years of arguing over whether an extensive, $56 million cleanup plan will do the job, support is growing locally for a new plan that would cost an estimated $24 million

Community members and local leaders have long implored the U.S. EPA to remove all hazardous waste from the barrel fill — which they worry could seep into Springfield’s drinking water supply. Advocates for a full clean-up had a letter hand-delivered to President Barack Obama’s staff during his visit to the county in 2012.

The current U.S. EPA cleanup plan calls for digging up all of the barrels, taking out the ones with liquid waste and putting the barrels filled with solid waste back in place with the addition of a double liner and leak detection.

RELATED: Activists question cleanup costs of Clark County hazardous waste

The site was being addressed through the EPA’s Superfund Alternative program, but the EPA no longer considers the site to be a candidate for that program, according to the EPA’s website. The federal agency has asked Ohio to agree to place the site on the National Priorities List, which would allow it to become a Superfund site.

“Everybody wants to see this move forward and we know that there’s no way U.S. EPA will go back to (the original plan),” said Marilyn Welker, the president of People for Safe Water, a local activist group.

The barrel fill is an 8.5-acre section of a closed landfill that had been used for industrial waste barrels. It contains an estimated 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste buried in the ground. If left in its current state, the site could be a risk to public health decades from now because the barrels could deteriorate and some of the chemicals leach into the groundwater, officials have said.

The federal EPA was expected to move forward with a $56 million plan, Alternative 4a, to remove all hazardous waste from the barrel fill. However, in 2011, the federal agency issued its final decision, the $28 million Alternative 9a, which called for barrels containing industrial waste to be dug up and then reburied on-site in a lined landfill. Officials and local citizens have fought for years to have the clean-up plan reverted back to Alternative 4a. Since that time, a modified version of Alternative 9a was estimated to cost about $24 million.

While there is disappointment within the activist group that the site may not see all the material removed, the group’s members want the liquid chemicals removed before it’s too late, Welker said.

“It’s not an option for that site to just sit there,” Welker said. “We need cooperation to get that site cleaned up. That’s the bottom line.”

People for Safe Water wants the site placed on the Priorities List because it will assure compliance, accountability and future monitoring, Welker said. It’s also possible the federal agency could enforce action against the potentially responsible parties, she said.

Local leaders met with state and federal Environmental Protection Agency leaders last month about possibly moving forward with the modified plan. The plan would also include installation of a double liner and a leak detection system.

“The momentum is there,” Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.

RELATED: County asks EPA to reevaluate Tremont City Barrel Fill

The U.S. EPA needs consensus from the community that it will accept the most recent plan with specific modifications, Lohnes said. Once that happens, local officials will meet with federal representatives about moving forward with the clean-up, he said.

“They’re not going to move on unless we agree with what the plan is,” Lohnes said.

Questions remain about the modified plan moving forward, Welker said, including additional measures to the cleanup plan outlined by recent studies of the site.

A $10,000 report completed last year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluate additional cleanup measures at the site recommended adding a stabilizing agent to hazardous wastes reburied in the lined barrel fill at a cost of about $1.5 million.

Another report completed in October by U.S. EPA consultant Tetra Tech recommended removal of nearly 1,000 barrels, described as “the worst of the worst.”

“We don’t know that both will be included,” Welker said.

The activist group seeks permanent removal of certain barrels containing the most mobile and toxic chemicals. They’re currently drafting a letter of questions for Chicago-based project manager Jim Saric.

“We are wanting there to be much more specificity regarding volatile organic compounds,” Welker said.

The barrel fill has been a problem in the community since she was 3 years old, County Commissioner Melanie Flax-Wilt said.

“I’m glad to see us making progress towards a resolution,” she said.

MORE: Community wants Tremont Barrel Fill waste gone

Some local leaders had concerns about how being placed on the NPL could affect local economic development, but county commissioners said the barrel fill has been an issue for some time.

“It’s a deterrent for businesses at some level anyway,” Flax-Wilt said. “Solving it is not going to make things worse for attracting and retaining jobs here and that’s what we need to do.”

The Chamber of Greater Springfield had concerns about being placed on the NPL in the past, President and CEO Mike McDorman said, but now agree the site must be cleaned up.

“We just want to get it done,” McDorman said. “We need to address it now and we’re in concert with (People for Safe Water).”

County commissioner Lowell McGlothin still wants to see all of the materials entirely removed from the barrel fill and placed somewhere else, he said.

“Let’s hope that that could happen,” he said. “We need to keep at it. Hopefully, we can go forward and get it resolved in the near future, not 20 years down the road.”

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