2010-11-05 / Community

Advocates frustrated by another field lab cleanup delay

By Carissa Marsh cmarsh@theacorn.com

Despite receiving more than 1,700 comments in support of the draft cleanup agreement reached with the Department of Energy (DOE) for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, the state is holding a second public comment period.

And local advocates— though happy with the cleanup agreement—aren’t pleased to have another delay.

“I have lived beneath this polluted site since 1970 and have worked diligently for decades to get those responsible to clean it up,” said Barbara Johnson, a Santa Susana Knolls resident. ”I am dismayed that there is now to be an additional delay, until early December, in signing the agreement and getting on with the cleanup. There should be no more delays.”

At the beginning of September, the state of California reached a tentative agreement with two of the three parties responsible for the pollution of the field lab, a former rocket engine and nuclear test site in the hills above Simi Valley.

It took more than a year and a half of negotiations, but the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)—the state agency overseeing the cleanup— was able to get NASA and the DOE to agree to clean up their portions of the field lab to meet the strict environmental standards set by Senate Bill 990.

Signed into law in October 2007, SB 990 requires the property to be cleaned to the most protective rural residential standard.

The DTSC gave the public the chance to comment on the draft agreement until Oct. 1 and received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Now the state has a final agreement with DOE, one that community members say is very similar to the draft document, but with some changes to the legalese. Yet the state is requiring a second public comment period to run through Nov. 22.

Unless there are significant new comments that require further study, a final agreement will be executed Dec. 6, the DTSC said.

While Johnson is pleased that the state and the DOE were able to create a legally enforceable order, she said it’s “deeply frustrating” to have to go through another comment period, especially when so many already voiced their support.

“I just don’t understand. Sounds like politics to me,” said Johnson, a spokesperson for the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition— a 21-year-old alliance working to ensure the cleanup of the contaminated site.

“I thought it was a done deal and here they are asking for more public comment. . . . I could see it if there were new issues that were raised, but there weren’t,” she added.

Oak Park resident Cindi Gortner feels the same. She said she was “thrilled” to hear of the overwhelming public support for the cleanup agreement but “extremely disappointed” to learn that the document still wouldn’t be signed until December.

“Those of us who’ve lived with this frightening health hazard for decades so close to where we are raising our children don’t want any further delays,” Gortner said. “It seems ludicrous to ask for public comments again instead of moving forward with the cleanup.

“The public has spoken. There’s no question about how they feel,” she added.

Rick Brausch, the state’s field lab project director, said the DTSC received a handful of requests to review the final agreement before they are signed and that the DOE asked that an additional comment period be offered to the public in case any new issues come up in the final order.

But like local residents, Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) said she too is “disappointed” the DOE is demanding the agreement be circulated for another round of comments on the legal details.

“With more than 99 percent of the 1,700 comments submitted in support of the initial (agreement), the last thing the community should have to endure after 50 years is a single additional day of delay,” said Brownley, who coauthored SB 990 with former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl.

State Sen. Fran Pavley (DAgoura Hills) agreed, but she said she trusts the additional comment period will not impact the DOE’s promise to sign by Dec. 6.

“The community has been waiting for far too long for the basic guarantee of clean water and uncontaminated soil,” Pavley said. “I am encouraged by this proposed agreement . . . and I will be thrilled when it is finally signed.”

Despite the delay, Johnson said, she and others will move forward and “hold the feds to their promise” to sign by Dec. 6.

“Then these impacted communities can finally breathe a sigh of relief.”

The final agreement covers DOE’s 290-acre portion of the facility. Charlotte Fadipe, spokesperson for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said that while the state has not yet finalized an agreement with NASA, it does expect to announce a similar agreement soon.

There remains the challenge of getting The Boeing Co., the largest stakeholder of the 2,850-acre field lab, on board. Boeing has continued to fight the constitutionality of SB 990 in state court, with a trial date set for June.

The public can view the final draft agreement with the DOE at www.dtsc.ca.gov/SiteCleanup/ Santa_Susana_Field_Lab/SSFLCleanup. cfm.

Comments can be submitted at ssfl@dtsc.ca.gov.

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