||Formal Comments by Clean Water Action Council on the Fox River Capping Plan - Part 2|
Help Clean The
River and Bay!
January 11, 2007
Susan Pastor, Community Involvement Coordinator
Dear Ms. Pastor
The Clean Water Action Council is submitting this second letter as an addendum to the comments sent by mail in regard to the proposed amendment to the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Lower Fox River and Green Bay PCB clean-up.
We support and agree with the technical comments submitted by Dr. Peter deFur on our behalf, and won't repeat those arguments here.
This letter is primarily a comment on the appalling process used to
arrive at the Basis of Design Report (BODR) and the proposed amendment
to the ROD. Our concerns are as follows:
Manipulation of the Decision-making Process and Public
1. More than 3.5 years of Secret Meetings
The corporations have had exclusive access to secret closed-door technical meetings held with EPA and DNR staff for all of the 3.5 years since the 2003 ROD was finalized, resulting in a grossly imbalanced scientific investigation of remedial options. The public and news media were excluded from all technical debates during this time. All compromises and tradeoffs with corporate lobbyists have been made secretly.
2. TAG expert excluded
Several times, Clean Water Action Council requested that it be allowed to send its technical advisor to at least some of the EPA and DNR technical meetings, during the investigation of remedial options. CWAC received an EPA Technical Assistance Grant for the purpose of hiring this technical advisor and wanted the advisor to act as a citizen representative at the meetings. The EPA and DNR absolutely refused, and argued that it would only "slow down" the process. More likely, their corporate partners didn't want the public to know what compromises were being made or by whom. And if our advisor did provide input which slowed down the process, this could have been beneficial, by correcting serious mistakes or gaps in the planning. Now, the one-sided plan has major fatal flaws because no one was there to question the corporate lobbyists.
3. Most analyses conducted by corporate consultants/lobbyists under corporate control
Because this is a "voluntary" cleanup, the corporations have been given enormous control over the choice of consultants and contractors to use for the cleanup. Boldt Construction was assigned by the state as project oversight managers, despite the obvious direct financial connections between this firm and the paper industry in the Fox River Valley. The agencies may have ultimate oversight, but they are weakened by the fact that they rely heavily on a biased corporate contractors' expertise rather than keeping independent expertise on staff at the DNR and EPA.
4. Capping proposals made AFTER public hearings and comment period ended in 2003.
The agencies argue that capping is not a new proposal because the 2003 version of the ROD included capping as a "contingent remedy," but this was NOT in the draft 2002 ROD that was offered for public hearing and comment. This "contingent remedy" was inserted into the 2003 ROD only AFTER the public comment period ended, when the paper companies launched an intense lobbying and public relations campaign to make capping the preferred solution. Prior to that point, we had been told by agency staff that capping was unacceptable. The public was not given an opportunity to comment on capping as a serious proposal.
5. Industry hired university professors as lobbyists - undercutting the STAC
In 2003, the corporations hired 5 professors from the University of Wisconsin to "review" the results of an "expert panel" proposal to cap pollutants in the river. As a result, these paid-off professors behaved like lobbyists for the industry proposal, even though many of them were speaking outside their own area of expertise. This manipulated public opinion by giving the appearance of University and scientific endorsement for capping. It also damaged the effectiveness and credibility of the DNR's "Science and Technical Advisory Committee" for the Fox River Remedial Action Plan a local committee which has monitored and commented on the Fox River cleanup for 20 years), because two previously independent key members of the STAC (Bud and Vicki Harris) were now tied to industry and supporting capping.
6. Industry Gave Large Grants for University Projects - Silenced University Inputs
The corporations reinforced their claim on the University by giving large grants to support projects of other University professors. This effectively silenced most University staff comments on capping and eliminated University staff support for local citizens fighting against capping or on other issues.
7. Corporate NRD funds bought goodwill from local officials
The agencies allowed Georgia-Pacific to dictate how their NRD restoration settlement dollars would be used. As a result, G-P distributed the funds carefully to pay for several pet recreation projects favored by local officials in several Brown County municipalities. The officials are naturally grateful.
8. Hostile, Rude DNR Staff
For more than 15 years, DNR staff have been irritable and rude towards any citizen who dares question their decisions on the Fox River clean-up. They are chummy with all the corporate representatives and treat local citizens as the enemy. The favoritism is blatant. While we can understand staff frustrations with being overworked, understaffed and underfunded, that is not an excuse for poor treatment of citizens and excessive friendliness towards corporate representatives.
9. STAC excluded
For many years, even members of the local Science and Technical Advisory Committee have been excluded from any meaningful input in the remedial design (except for those members hired by industry). The Chair of the STAC recently complained that Greg Hill, the DNR's Fox River Project Manager, has refused to respond to his phone calls or e-mails for more than 1.5 years. Such snubbing is outrageous.
10. DNR Website Hopelessly Out of Date and Documents Inaccessible
In the fall of 2006, when the ROD amendment was being finalized and the BODR was supposedly out for public review, the DNR website for the Fox River Clean-up was hopelessly messed up and the EPA website made no attempt to compensate. DNR contact names and phone numbers were more than 2 years out of date, with no forwarding number. Numerous people were complaining that the BODR report and attachments couldn't be opened online. We called DNR to get these problems fixed and the DNR acknowledged the problems had already persisted for months and they weren't sure how to fix it. They hoped it would be fixed soon. A month later, the documents were still inaccessible online. The EPA never posted copies. Some citizens had copies of the documents on disks provided by the agencies, but the general public was left in the dark. Public involvement was clearly not a priority.
When the public hearing was scheduled, the DNR website continued to say that there was nothing on the calendar. Just a day before the hearing it still said this. Only by carefully searching through several Fox River pages did I finally find a little box in the upper right hand corner on one page which briefly stated that a public hearing would be held. Truly pathetic.
11. Unreasonable Restrictions on Hardcopies
The EPA and DNR required the corporations to print only 7 hardcopies of the BODR for the public, for placement at 7 public libraries. Very few other copies were printed. When asked why, the EPA said "nobody really wants to read all that detail," despite our repeated requests for copies and the acknowledged frustrations of everyone having trouble opening the documents online. Clearly, all those citizens would have been grateful to receive a printed copy. It appears the EPA staff have a low opinion of citizens who are attempting to provide input, if the EPA believes those citizens aren't willing to read the full technical report.
The EPA also claimed they printed 2 hardcopies for Clean Water Action Council, one for our Green Bay Office and one for the Technical Advisor in Virginia, who was hired with the EPA Technical Assistance Grant. But they claimed that FedEx "lost" the copy that was mailed to Virginia and refused to replace it. We had to send our only copy to Virginia, so now we have none. Valuable study and research time of the Technical Advisor was wasted as we wrangled with EPA staff, trying to get another copy. On one hand, the EPA argued that we could print it off the disk ourselves, or have it printed by a printing business, but then they acknowledged this could cost us up to $1,000 because of all the colored charts that accompany the BODR. They didn't seem to care that this would be cost-prohibitive to us or most other citizens. We asked them why they didn't file a claim with FedEx for the "lost" package, so they could recover the value and use the money to pay for a replacement, but EPA said that would require too much time and red tape. They're either too lazy or public involvement is not a priority to them.
The bottom line is that the agencies are deliberately running interference for the corporations. They're saving the corporations printing money and making the one brief opportunity for public review of the technical documents as difficult and unlikely as possible.
12. Disk-based Documents Discourage Public Input
In recent years, the agencies have provided disks instead of hardcopies for many technical reports related to the Fox River. These disks are very difficult to study for highly technical issues, because the text often refers to charts, graphs and diagrams on other pages or in the appendices. The BODR is no exception, because the printed version is several inches thick. Normally, with a paper copy, a reader flips back and forth among pages, but that's impossible with a PDF document on a computer screen. Readers also like to add tabs to key pages, underline or circle certain passages, use highlighters, or scribble notes in the margins as they read. That's impossible with a PDF document on a computer screen. Eye strain is also a serious problem when spending hours studying such large documents on a computer screen.
If the EPA truly believes that "nobody really wants to read all that detail," why would CD printing be an improvement over hardcopies, unless your real goals are to discourage public input and save money for the corporations?
13. Last Minute Notice of Announcements
EPA and DNR public involvement staff keep saying they're doing their best to involve the public, but virtually every Fox River public announcement or news conference over the past 5 years has involved total secrecy and obviously sneaky efforts to hide from ANY public attendance at the news conferences. Clean Water Action Council is supposed to be the designated Technical Assistance Grant coordinator for the Fox River cleanup and we have a duty to gather and share updated information with the public, but the agencies have done their utmost to shut us out and keep us completely in the dark until they have informed the news media.
Every time this happens, we get a flurry of phone calls from the news media, with on-the-spot newspaper, radio and TV interviews asking us to comment on the new EPA and DNR announcements. But the agencies have nearly always failed to send us the news releases and we have never gotten the detailed documents in time for careful study before the media contact us. This forces us to comment with only sketchy background, after the reporters tell us the basics of the announcements. Not a good situation.
This hostile treatment by DNR and EPA staff is further proof of a serious pro-corporate bias in this process. The corporations are always well-informed, prepared and fully briefed before major announcements. In fact, the corporations are full partners in the development of all the documents leading to the announcements. Only the public is excluded and kept deliberately ignorant, to allow smooth sailing for the corporate propaganda.
In many cases, the detailed documents have been sent to us only weeks, or in one case many months, after the announcements have been made.
14. Political Grandstanding
Most Fox River announcements have become political events where the politicians jump on board and pile praise on the agencies. They don't want feedback from the public, they want an exclusive conduit to the media with undiluted positive sound bites about their leadership and work. It's extremely dishonest and manipulative, and has nothing to do with protecting public health and wildlife, or cleaning up the river.
15. Governor Upstages Our Only Public Hearing
Most recently, Governor Doyle just happened to schedule one of his rare "Town Hall Meetings" only 2 hours before the beginning of our only public hearing opportunity on the proposed amendment to the ROD. This appeared to be a deliberate effort to upstage news of our hearing and citizen protest rally against capping, and if not deliberate, it showed an appalling disinterest in the Fox River issue. If the Governer had been truly serious about coming to Green Bay that night to hear local citizen concerns, he should have come to the Fox River hearing where 300 people had gathered for comments. As it was, the Governor predictably drew all the news media to his non-event where he said nothing new, taking up precious space in that night's brief TV news segments and drawing media attention away from our critically important public hearing. It appears to be just another small favor the Governor has granted to the paper industry.
16. Public Hearing and Comments During Busiest Season
Once again, the agencies deliberately chose the very busiest time of the year (the Christmas season and the end of the school semester during final exams) to hold the public hearing and comment period. If the agencies truly cared about maximizing public involvement, they would choose early fall or early spring for these events. We've complained about this repeatedly, but the agencies never listen.
It wasn't as if the planners had to coordinate a lot of staff to attend. There were only 3 people up front listening to citizen testimony, plus a court reporter.
17. Citizen Oral Comments Limited to 3 Minutes, Unevenly Applied
While the corporate polluters have had 3.5 years of unlimited personal access to all the involved agency staff, citizens were limited to just 3 minute comments to one DNR and one EPA staff person, at one public hearing. The EPA hearing coordinator seemed to think the hearing process was a joke and citizen comments needed to be rushed as much a possible. She did not restrict timing of comments evenly, often letting industry supporters take much longer than capping opponents. Early in the hearing, she even allowed one of the Fox River cleanup contractors to displace a citizen commenter, and allowed him to taken up citizens' precious time with embarrassing praise for his own efforts. It was not appropriate. It was not fair. That man has constant access to the agencies.
18. Industry Stacks Meeting with Coached Employees
Georgia-Pacific obviously induced many of its employees to attend the public hearing as a cheering squad in the back of the room, making a mockery of the process. During testimony, one by one, G-P employees got up and made the same speech: "My name is ________. I've lived in Green Bay all my life and I have a family. I love to fish and boat and swim in the river and bay. I also value my job at G-P and think we need to find balance on this Fox River cleanup. I think this capping plan is great and I support it." The testimony of these employees should NOT be given equal weight when compared to other independent citizen testimony. Their employer Georgia-Pacific essentially WROTE this plan and has had constant access to agency staff for the past 3.5 years. Their views have been represented all along, while the rest of us have been excluded.
19. Agency Staff Misled Public at Hearing
At the public hearing, agency staff gave SEVERAL dishonest answers
to direct questions from the public. Jim Hahnenburg made a
particular effort in his introduction and answers to discount all the
concerns Clean Water Action Council had raised in its handout that night.
1. He said groundwater upwelling had been addressed and wasn't a problem. Our technical advisor says that is absolutely not true.I made a long list that night of untrue statements made by agency staff. It was a shameful performance designed to deliberately mislead, confuse and neutralize legitimate public input.
20. Corporations and Agency Staff Lobby the Media and Elected Officials TOGETHER
It was extremely disturbing to hear that agency and corporate staff were working together as teams of lobbyists to manipulate media coverage of this issue. These teams visited all the possible media outlets in person, in some cases several times, to sell the ROD amendment and badger the media. It was pure propaganda and blatantly pro-corporate, repeating many of the lies and half-truths listed in #16 above. When did our public agencies become such blatant employees of the corporations? Who is providing their salaries?
21. Hearing held same night as Green Bay City Council Meeting
Several dozen local government officials were prevented from attending the public hearing on this plan, because the agencies chose the same night as the bi-monthly Green Bay City Council meeting. So community leaders were excluded. In addition, several hot topics were on the City's agenda that night, so many citizens were forced to choose between attending and speaking at one or the other event, which significantly reduced attendance at the Fox River hearing.
22. Secret Dismantling of the Town of Holland Landfill Option
The agencies held secret, closed door meetings with local Brown County officials regarding the use of the Town of Holland Landfill for the bulk of the Fox River cleanup project. [NOTE: It turns out that the EPA lied to us about this as well. Neither the EPA nor the DNR met with the County about this issue at any time in the past 5 years.] This particular landfill was the keystone underlying the 2003 ROD, but there was absolutely no public input process allowed as a few County officials debated this option secretly. Now the EPA and DNR say that they MUST amend the ROD and allow capping because they lack adequate landfill space. The most critical decision was already made before the public comment period opened, making this so-called "public involvement process" a fraud.
We've always had concerns about excessive corporate influence over DNR and EPA decisions on the Fox River, but this latest process has been blatantly corrupt and indefensible. The corporations are clearly in control and getting what they want, despite high risks for public health and taxpayers in the future.
The result is an absolute disaster of a plan. Completely unacceptable.
Rebecca Katers, Executive Director
CONTENT BY: Rebecca Leighton Katers
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