No firm timeline for Koppers site clean-up


Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 8:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 8:42 p.m.

No firm timeline or details for the clean-up or redevelopment of the Cabbot-Carbon Koppers Superfund site emerged from a meeting Thursday.

However, Gainesville city officials were cautiously optimistic that property owner Beazer East Inc. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were willing to cooperate with local officials and residents on a more thorough remediation than the one identified in an EPA draft released last year.

Updated information that Beazer East senior environmental manager Mitchell Brourman presented during the Thursday afternoon City Commission meeting has Koppers Inc. closing down operations and moving out equipment, chemicals and supplies by the end of March. Koppers has owned and operated the wood treatment plant since 1989.

Beazer East, out of Pittsburgh, Pa., operated the plant, located at 200 N.W. 23rd Ave., from 1916 to 1988 and is responsible for funding and seeing through the future clean-up of the western 90 acres of the contaminated site.

The company purchased the property back from Koppers in December, a move that could hasten the clean-up because there will no longer be an active wood treatment plant on site.

Brourman said Beazer East was committed to see that the property was "more effectively cleaned up" and to not "let the land sit fallow."

While there was general discussion of a potential mixed-use commercial and retail development -- and city commissioners pushed to have the property left in a condition that would allow residential development -- all talks were general and preliminary.

The EPA plans to bring in a contracted consulting firm, EČ Inc., to get community and resident input on the future use of the land. Brourman said Beazer East would work through that process and has no "preconceived notions" about the future of the property, except to make it a "center of attraction instead of a center of detraction."

Following significant lobbying from city and county officials to have a more thorough clean-up plan put in place more quickly, Scott Miller, the EPA section chief in charge of the Superfund site, unveiled an updated timeline that has the agency releasing its final required plan for remediation on June 4. That plan, known as a record of decision, will not be the final step before remediation work begins.

"This is more the EPA saying 'this is what they're going to do,' " said John Mousa, environmental program manager for the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. "It does not necessarily give you all the details on how they're going to do it."

Currently, the EPA is scheduled to issue its final feasibility study on the clean-up of the site on March 15 and then have a one-month public comment period from April 5 to May 5 before issuing ITS record of decision.

But that timeline could be pushed back as the EPA allows for public participation and input on the plans, Miller said.

Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan praised the EPA's "very aggressive schedule" to release a remediation plan, but said the need to get to the clean-up as "quick as possible" has to be balanced with making it "as thorough as possible."

The site has been listed as a federal Superfund site for more than 25 years. Creosote, a chemical that causes cancer, has been detected in the aquifer, and tests have shown the presence of toxins such as dioxin, arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene in soil samples.

At one point Thursday, Hanrahan asked Brourman if Beazer was willing to purchase homes from neighboring residents who want to get away from the site.

"So many of them have expressed to me, 'I'm stuck in this house,' " she said. "'I can't ethically sell it to someone else'."

That decision, Brourman said, "is above my pay grade."

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com

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