Minimal progress on contaminated site sparks heated exchange by residents
BRAWLEY — Community members exchanged heated dialogue regarding their skepticism and disapproval toward a state agency’s progress in managing contaminated soil at the former site of a pesticide manufacturer during a stakeholders meeting held Wednesday evening.
“We have one solution as a community that we want, and that’s the full clean up of the area with a scientific survey study of the impact on the community,” said local organizer Eric M. Reyes.
The Department of Toxic Substance Control held the meeting at the city’s emergency operation center in hopes of re-engaging community stakeholders in dialogue concerning the future of the site, which use to formulate, store and distribute agricultural chemicals.
The property in question was the former location of a Chevron PureGro facility, which was in service from the 1940s to the end of 2000 and where years of operation left the property’s soil contaminated.
Although the meeting eventually ended with community stakeholders and members of DTSC reaching common ground in understanding the desire and concerns of local residents, this result came about after more than three hours of tense discourse and a protest rally held an hour prior to the meeting. Members of Comite Civico del Valle and Los Amigos De La Comunidad IV led the rally of local residents and community leaders outside the local police station near the center here to reiterate their displeasure with DTSC and what they felt were the agency’s unsuccessful strategies for public participation.
“I’m a concerned citizen, and that area has been contaminated for such a long time; it feels like nothing has been done about it,” Brawley resident Alejandro Vazquez said as he protested alongside other residents.
Organizers held a similar rally in early February to voice their disapproval over the agency’s initial plan to cover the contaminated soil at the site, which led DTSC ultimately to scrap the plan as a result of the overwhelming community opposition.
During Wednesday’s meeting, DTSC provided stakeholders with a background history of the property and informed everyone of routine site maintenance work that will begin May 21 and will last four to five days. The maintenance to the area is not the final remedy for the site, but the hope is to alleviate some public concerns regarding the dust produced from the area.
The main purpose of the maintenance will be to prevent dust from generating from the site and its stockpile as well as to provide annual sampling of groundwater, said Elsa Lopez, public participation specialist for DTSC.
As for reaching a final remedy for the site, DTSC Branch Chief John Scandura stated that, realistically, just arriving at a remedy that follows the consensus of the public would take well into December to finalize.
However, this estimation didn’t deter Brawley resident Luis Olmedo of Comite Civico to stand firm with residents’ desire to push for DTSC officials to focus on a remedy plan that would involve a full clean-up and complete removal of the contaminated soil in order to bring the area to the standards for residential land use.
“I think we really need to shoot for the stars and hope we land on the clouds,” Olmedo said, understanding that although a complete removal might seem optimistic to some the need to stay consistent and demand the most is necessary moving forward if anything is to be accomplished.
In response, members of DTSC concluded the meeting by promising to reach out to stakeholders in about two weeks with a timeline for the next six months as well as updates on specific concerns raised by stakeholders along with the date for their next meeting.
Community members stand outside the Brawley police station in protest of the Department of Toxic Substance Control’s progress in managing a local contaminated site, Wednesday evening. CELESTE ALVAREZ PHOTO
Several residents take to the street to protest of the Department of Toxic Substance Control’s progress in managing a local contaminated site, Wednesday evening. CELESTE ALVAREZ PHOTO