By Wendy Steffensen, North Sound Baykeeper
After a spirited meeting last night (Tuesday, August 12), our team again reflects on where do we go from here.
At last night’s informational meeting, Lee First and I presented facts and information about the clean-up of Georgia Pacific West. Our goal was to educate participants about the toxics, the clean-up options, and how to make comments. Now folks are asking us whether their comments really make any difference.
The answer is maybe. Often, Lee and I have written comments which we believe to be solid, only to be rebuffed by the Department of Ecology (Ecology). We also have asked ourselves whether this work matters, and we have decided that it does.
Good technical and procedural comments do make a difference, and we have caused change in some aspects of cleanups over the years. Is it easy? No. Does it take a lot of time? Yes. Is it worthwhile to be educated about the decisions that affect the cleanup of the sites on our waterfront? We believe it is. Is it worth your time to write a comment letter on any specific cleanup before you? It depends. Ask yourself if what you have to say is grounded in science or the law. Is your perspective unique? Do you have the time and energy to commit to understanding part or all of the cleanup? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” you should write a letter. Will it make a difference? Maybe.
Ecology’s process is frustrating and tightly prescribed. Ecology and the Potentially Liable Party (PLP) work together to decide the potential cleanup options. Ecology’s role is to ensure that the process and cleanup are compliant with state cleanup law, the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).
Public participation is solicited at four discrete instances, which correspond to the release of the following documents:
1) After the Agreed Order, a legal document where the PLP “agrees” to conduct a Remedial Investigation (RI), Feasibility Study (FS) and other needed cleanup actions,
2) After the RI/ FS, where the amount, extent, and type of the contamination are identified (RI) and where potential options for its cleanup are presented (FS),
3) After the Cleanup Action Plan and Consent Decree, where the preferred option is further defined and a legal agreement is made committing the PLP to the cleanup, and
4) After the Engineering Design Report, which lays out the designs and specifications needed to ensure the chosen cleanup.
The PLP usually hires a consultant to conduct the RI/FS, and a preferred cleanup alternative is also selected by Ecology in the FS. This cleanup alternative, by law, is the least expensive option which achieves cleanup under MTCA.
The real action of deciding the type of cleanup that will happen occurs between the Agreed Order and the release of the RI/FS. These are closed door meetings between Ecology and the PLP. These two parties have negotiated the cleanup, so it is not surprising that a third party, the public, often has little influence after the plan, the draft final, has buy-in from the regulator and the regulated.
This is not to say that we have no voice and no power. As I said before, we have made positive changes to cleanups. We also need to make sure that Ecology knows that we are watching and that we care.
An audience member asked, “Can we do this differently – can we make a difference before we are given the draft final proposal? Before the cleanup solution is basically a done deal?” Again, it's a maybe that we have discussed here at RE Sources before, and with so many people engaged in our cleanups and feeling frustrated with the process, perhaps we can forge a way forward together that will result in better cleanups.
If you are interested in working on this, send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will set up a work group for the fall to move mountains or to make the cleanup law and liable parties more accountable to citizens.