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Transcript: Life After Superfund

John Stumbo: My name is John Stumbo, and I’m the Mayor of the City of Fort Valley, Fort Valley, USA as we call it - it just happens to be located in Georgia. When I came into office ten years ago I inherited the Woolfolk Superfund Site.

James Woolford: The mission of Superfund is to clean up the nation’s worst toxic waste sites, and to return them to beneficial use to help out the communities.

Charles King: The Woolfolk Chemical Site was a pesticide formulating and manufacturing facility started in around 1910. Some of the contaminants were buried in the soil, some of it was windblown over in the neighborhoods, and our primary contaminants are arsenic, there’s also BHCs or alpha, beta, gamma, and delta BHCs, we have some DDT and other pesticides and herbicides.

John Stumbo: One of the difficulties was that because of the heat in the summertime in Georgia, much of their operation was under roof but the sides were open. And a lot of this material was mixed by conveyor belt systems. And so we had wind that would come through the facility and scatter this arsenic laced dust across part of the community. So we ended up with an 18 acre or so concentrated site where the operation was which is actually the formerly declared Superfund site. But beyond that we had sixty or eighty homes and yards that were contaminated to one level or another by this – the blowing of the arsenic dust.

A citizen’s – concerned citizen’s group was developed called the Woolfolk Citizen’s Response Group. And that was made up of leaders in the community, principally from the area that was most affected residentially by the Superfund site. And they became a citizen’s advocacy group. And obviously there was a lot of contention between the potentially responsible party at that time, which was Canada and Georgia, and this citizens’ group, and then EPA as well.

Marvin Crafter: At the time we had one question which has served as the base - basis of our involvement. That question is, what has this thing done to this town and its people. And our basic task was to gain information, interpret the information as best we could, and relay that information to the general public in this town, primarily, impact the community. We didn’t know at the time what our involvement would net.

John Stumbo: The EPA was beginning to develop its records on decision – what kind of a process it would go through in each one of these operating units to remediate. And they had test results that Canada and Georgia had furnished originally to the Environmental Department of Georgia, but those test results were suspect. And I don’t think that the citizen’s group felt that they were accurate because I don’t think they thought that the tests were first of all broad enough in scope, and second of all they questioned the fact that maybe there was more contamination here than what those test results showed. That somehow the potential party had minimized the test results for their own benefit.

Claude Terry: As a technical adviser I’m called in to interface between EPA and the community, to make sure the community understands why EPA is doing a given thing, how the cleanup is going, why it is sometimes difficult to dispose of great piles of dirt. When I came on board to work as a TAG adviser I was not allowed to do testing but I was able to push EPA to do testing separate and apart from the responsible party and their consultants. Pretty quickly it was found that there were a lot of contaminated properties in the area that people should not be walking around on or growing flowers or using. One of the surprises is that we have found arsenic in places we did not expect to find arsenic, which has changed the nature of the project.

Ira Hicks: We were told that if you would dig about three inches and replace that soil if the soil showed that there was contamination that that would be sufficient. And of course there were some of us who knew that contamination would certainly be deeper than three inches. And we finally got some people to say, well, perhaps six inches deep. And there were those of us who said there’s no way that contaminants wouldn’t penetrate the soil below six inches.

John Stumbo: One of the things that was decided at the time I came into office was that it might be useful to set up an organization that would meet periodically, and we called it The Alliance, and the idea was that we would bring all the stakeholders into the meeting, and we’d meet once a month or once every six weeks.

Ira Hicks: It was a matter of sharing information with the – with the community itself, and answering whatever the questions were as best as, as could be answered. It was then that things started to be understood better, and of course, accepted better than what it had been.

John Stumbo: The second phase of the operation is – what you test which is number one then you start to remediate. Well, what I discovered was that remediation number one is extremely expensive when you’re talking about toxic substances. Number two, we had the potentially responsible party who went bankrupt at this time. So we were left without a potentially responsible party. So that meant then that – that our site was going to compete not only in the EPA region headquarters in Atlanta but also across the country for Superfund remediation dollars. If it were not for the EPA, and congress’s willingness to fund the Superfund, this town could have never have done what needed to be done there – I mean there’s no way we could have afforded to do that. And we have been blessed over and over and over again by state and federal people who have come here to help us.

Claude Terry: EPA has cleaned yards cleaned properties, businesses – dug up a couple of businesses very extensively – cleaned the fairground. We’ve had good help from ATSCR, Centers for Disease Control, EPA, EPD, state health departments, and everyone local. There has not been any local opposition since we formed The Alliance.

John Stumbo: Redevelopment – third phase – is very much our responsibility, as opposed to EPA’s or somebody else, okay – the first two things have been EPA’s responsibility, to test and then to come up with a remediation plan and complete it. Redevelopment is coming. 

One of the operating units that was developed was developed around two buildings. One was the desire of the public library system in the county to build a major library in Fort Valley, to replace an older one. And secondly, we had a home that was actually built after the Civil War but it looks very ante-bellum, which we wanted to use as a public agency facility to house our Chamber of Commerce, our Development Authority, and so on and so forth. And it was contaminated. Early in the process of the Superfund, we were able to get the funds to clean up that house. Right across the street from the actual site itself – the Superfund site – was a piece of property that was contaminated. And what was there needed to be torn down. So the library was able to get that site at a very reasonable land cost, obviously, in exchange for which they had built a beautiful brick library, and it’s another one of the success stories of this project. Because EPA worked really hard to get the site cleaned up, and to get it in a position where the library could acquire it and develop their building there, instead of having to wait ten or fifteen years for the rest of this process to work itself out.

Gilda Stanberry: My name is Gilda Stanberry, and I’m the director of Peach Public Libraries, and our headquarters is here in Fort Valley. Well, my first issue is always about protective – what am I, what am I bringing people into. Not only what I would be bringing the public into, but perhaps my greater concern was the people that would work here every day. And I also looked at it from the perspective of being a mother of a small child at that point – what would I be doing to expose myself and my child, and therefore it makes it very real when I look at other people’s children and start thinking, how does this pertain. You look at it at a very personal level.

John Stumbo: We didn’t have to wait to renovate the Trotman House, or to build the library. We were able to get, with the EPA’s help, those things done earlier on. So what that sent was a message to the people that hey, there is life after Superfund. We can do something to make that kind of thing happen.

Melissa Friedland: Redevelopment and reuse is a really important part of cleanup. I think many people used to think – myself included – that once you cleaned up your job was over. But the fact is, the way we want to look at Superfund sites now is we want to say, okay, we’ve cleaned it up, so what does it become next, what’s the next chapter to be written, what’s going to be the end of the story – its new ending. Cleanup is no longer the ending.

James Woolford: Not all sites are available for all kinds of use. What we’ll do in selecting a remedy – we’ll try to look at what the future use is. And in some cases we’ll know that we won’t be able to restore a site so that you can have unlimited use.

Charles King: We are working very diligently with the city because they have redevelopment efforts and one of the key things about our backfilling and paving is we want to make sure to get information from the city related to what type of activity they want to put back on the site, so we can have the soil at the right grading level that they would need to reduce cost on the redevelopment efforts.

John Stumbo: I will not tolerate some bare piece of ground that has dust swirls on it. With a fence around it. We will find the money and construct a major recreational facility that will include an indoor pool and basketball courts and weight rooms and so on as well as an outside area for basketball and soccer and so on.

Melissa Friedland: A lot of reuse had to do with having lots of discussions with lots of different people, and explaining not only why this is a good idea, but also answering people’s questions. You know, most people, when they hear this is – was a Superfund site, or is being cleaned up as a Superfund site they say, oh, gee, is it safe. And so I think a lot of our job is reassuring people that it is safe as long as the uses are appropriate and we follow – we do what we’re supposed to do with the site.

John Stumbo: One of the difficulties with the Superfund process is it is lengthy. And there seems to be no way to speed it up, as much as you’d like to get it over with tomorrow, you have got to stay committed to it, you can’t throw up your hands and walk away and give up. You just cannot.

Melissa Friedland: It’s a – it’s a very local issue, and people - you have to have a lot of discussions with people to figure out, you know how do we do this, what is it that’s going to work best for this community.

Marvin Crafter: Well, we have not always – we have not always agreed.

Ira Hicks: We have had a kind of leadership that we consider second to none for this kind of thing.

John Stumbo: I’m as results oriented as anybody in the world. But I also know, that as difficult as the process has been, it’s bringing – it’s brought this town together in a lot of ways. It’s brought this town together in a lot of ways.

Gilda Stanberry: Well, I’m proud of everyone who was involved, absolutely. It took all of us to make this happen.

John Stumbo: Even amongst all the difficulties we’ve had, and we’ve had our challenges, but this is really, really, really a success story. And it needs to be told.

Melissa Friedland: Twenty years ago people thought, oh Superfund, that’s just the worst of the worst. And nobody really thought there could be new life for these sites. But in fact, we’ve found though a number of sites – we have over five hundred sites now – that you can do something with Superfund sites. So places that were once blights to a community, places that we just – you couldn’t imagine that there any – could be anything good ever going on there, have really been turned around. Superfund is – is an opportunity to do something new. A cleaned up, reused Superfund site is a way of giving back to a community and turning something that was a problem into an asset.