Friday, August 25, 2006

It's Time for a New Plan

Question: Does this Fitzgerald and Halliday diagram illustrate the end goal of the DEP's defunct remediation plan, or the problem that the plan was designed to remedy?

Answer: BOTH

That's right. After years of waiting, on August 18th Commissioner McCarthy unveiled a proposed "remedy" that was virtually identical to the department's explanation of the cause of soil contamination at Newhall: covering up a contaminated landfill. Did it really take the DEP and Loureiro Engineering Associates several years to come up with their proposal to replace the few feet of soil that were placed over the original landfill, at a cost of 72 million dollars? If nothing else, LEA found a brilliant way to extend the life of the DEP's Big Dig boondoggle. If this "plan" were implemented, the DEP and its contractors would have the opportunity to dig up our neighborhood again in 25 years.

It's no surprise, then, that the DEP's bizarre plan and the closed process that created it were universally rejected by our community and its legislative representatives at the public meeting on August 18th. Not one person voiced even conditional support. If you missed the meeting, you can relive it through Sharon Bass' excellent and vivid recounting of the events, or watch it on CTV, which has been rebroadcasting the meeting. Casey Miner also nicely captures the DEP's unique combination of bureaucratic arrogance and scientific incompetence in her story in this week's Advocate.

There was a general consensus that the DEP's performance at the meeting was no better than their plan. The DEP's responses to questions were only half-hearted. Director of Remediation, Patrick Bowe, and his Assistant, Rob Bell, first tried to claim that when the landfill had been covered initially, it probably hadn't been covered over with enough soil. Had they actually checked with the Town to identify how the site had been dealt with originally? Of course not.

Is There Any Risk?

But the big elephant in the room that the DEP was clearly afraid of, and which they tried to dodge at the meeting, was the question of what risk, if any, we face from the soils in our area. The DEP staff blushed and squirmed when the audience broke into applause at the calls by one of our neighbors not to dig up our soils to protect us from cancer risks that are 50 times more remote than the risk of being killed by lightning. Sharp criticism of their ridiculous standards is not something that the DEP are used to hearing, because it's not something that most people know about (the DEP hides the details in cryptic formulas like the ones shown here). The fact is that there are only a few areas of Newhall that present a significant risk to our health, and they can be cleaned up fully and completely. In fact, the DEP's own remediation plan presents a greater risk to public health and the environment than the current conditions do...which is why that plan is dead in the water.

The Community not only deserves better, but it can do better. It's time for us to develop an alternative plan.