Min­i­mal progress on con­tam­i­nated site sparks heated ex­change by res­i­dents

Imperial Valley Press - - LOCAL & REGION - BY CE­LESTE AL­VAREZ

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

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