The Environmental Protection Agency is “well aware” of legislation approved by the U.S. Senate that would take away the agency’s jurisdiction over the radioactively contaminated West Lake Landfill.
But an agency official on Wednesday night said the EPA will press on with its process and propose a cleanup at the Bridgeton-area landfill by the end of the year.
“My job is to keep my team with their eye on the ball and focused on the job they have to do,” said Mary Peterson, the EPA’s regional Superfund director.
With the pending legislation in the background, the EPA signaled an interest in better communication with residents who live near the Bridgeton landfill. It hosted the first in a series of meetings that will explain the cleanup options as the agency nears a resolution. The EPA is considering capping the waste in place, or removing some or all of the waste.
The EPA’s relationship with the community has been strained at times. Residents frustrated with the lack of progress on a site contaminated with nuclear processing waste 40 years ago have grown distrustful. After a smoldering fire broke out in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, the sense of urgency increased as many worried it could move to West Lake and spread contamination off site.
Residents fed up with the slow pace of progress successfully lobbied the area’s congressional delegation to sponsor bills shifting responsibility over West Lake from the EPA to a special federal cleanup program run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Last month, the bill passed the U.S. Senate.
The EPA sought to signal more openness and tout some of its recent progress at the meeting Wednesday. Peterson pointed to the EPA’s addition of three staff members directly overseeing the cleanup process of its “largest and most complex” Superfund project.
“It was like having rush hour traffic funneled into one lane,” she said, referring to the lone project manager in charge of West Lake when she started a year ago.
The EPA has even hired a facilitator to host meetings and reach out to residents and interested organizations. The potential for the Corps of Engineers to take over the West Lake site, “was very much on everyone’s mind,” said Cindy Cook, the EPA-hired facilitator who led the meeting.
“This is an effort for us to have a good inclusive conversation,” she said of the town hall-style meeting. “If people don’t get together and have conversations, distrust grows.”
Jay Black, a Maryland Heights resident who lives within two miles of the Bridgeton Landfill, was skeptical that EPA was indicating a new focus on the West Lake project.
“When is all this talk going to get to some work?” he asked. “We’ve heard a lot of talk since 1990.”
A project to remove flammable brush in West Lake started last month and should be finished this spring.
Meanwhile, the EPA is still negotiating with Republic Services and other responsible parties over the design of a barrier separating the radioactive waste from the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill. The EPA hopes to spend much of this year designing it. Constriction is expected to start by 2017.