Decision Seriously Weakens
Fox River Clean-up
Help Clean The
River and Bay!
28, 2007 news release:
Green Bay, WI --- Local residents' concerns were ignored by today's DNR and EPA decision to finalize the drastically altered and weakened Fox River Clean-up "Record of Decision" proposed last November.
"The EPA admits that a full two thirds (2/3) of the hundreds of citizen comments they received last winter were opposed to capping PCBs in the river. But after 10 years of closed-door, secret negotiations exclusively with the polluting corporations, the state and federal governments seem to no longer care what the public thinks," stated Rebecca Katers, Executive Director of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin. "This is a corrupt decision, based on political expediency and cost, not on science or the public interest."
The decision allows the corporations to leave PCB contaminated sediments at dozens of scattered sites totaling 660 acres of river bottom between the De Pere Dam and the mouth of the river. Those acres will be capped by 13 inches of sand --- or up to 33 inches of sand, gravel, and rock over the more contaminated sites.
Other areas will still be dredged, with 3.7 million cubic yards of sediment removed from the river, but the volume has been reduced nearly 50% from the amount promised the public in the last version of the Record of Decision, in 2003. In addition, the 2003 plan had been weakened from prior proposed plans by calling for the removal of roughly 7 million cubic yards above 1 ppm PCBs, instead of following the risk assessment which called for the removal of more than 11 million cubic yards above .25 ppm PCBs (this is the true clean-up concentration needed to provide the low .001 average ppm PCB average to protect public health).
The polluting corporations will save nearly $200 million because of this latest weakened plan, but the public taxpayer will be assuming enormous future costs and risks due to the long-term need for monitoring, repair, and possible removal of failing caps 15, 50 or 100 years from now.
"Our politicians and governments are abandoning a proven technology (dredging and removal) in favor of an experimental, short-term cover-up. Successful capping has not been demonstrated anywhere in the country in a large flowing river at a northern latitude like ours, exposed to severe ice shoves and ice erosion, storms, and heavy river flooding. All prior caps have occurred in quiet lakes, bays, small creeks, or ocean sites. A few recent river projects have included caps, but some have already failed and others have yet to prove themselves. This weakened Fox River plan is based on flawed computer models, not scientific evidence of capping safety," added Katers. "The computer models are using false, weak assumptions of future river conditions."
This decision is the outcome of more than 20 years of government preference for a "voluntary, cooperative approach" to river clean-up. This has forced the EPA and DNR to waste decades trying to negotiate a clean-up acceptable to the polluters, to get the polluters to provide voluntary funding, instead of requiring an IMMEDIATE clean-up years ago to protect public health and wildlife.
"Our politicians have forced our environmental agencies to coddle serious polluters rather than enforce the law," stated Katers. "These corporations have poisoned hundreds of thousands of people in our region, and caused more than $1 billion in economic damages, but the agencies have delayed public protection for decades, to meet the demands of corporate lobbyists."
Our political leaders have also allowed their government agencies to delegate oversight responsibility for the Fox River project to the Boldt Construction Company of Appleton, despite this company's direct long-term financial ties to the paper industries of the Fox River Valley. Boldt has an obvious conflict of interest. The DNR and EPA claim they can't handle the oversight themselves because they don't have the technical expertise to design the river cleanup. And because all the planning and design meetings have been closed for 10 years, no outside independent experts have been allowed input either. This is a clear case of the Fox guarding the Hen House. Under these conditions, it's not surprising the corporations are getting the capping they wanted.
In addition, the decision fails to address the serious costs and public health threats posed by Renard Isle offshore from Bay Beach Amusement Park. In an earlier draft Fox River cleanup plan, $14 million was provided to remediate this old PCB contaminated dredge spoil disposal site. That money was taken out and not included in this latest decision, which means ALL future capping, remediation, repair and replacement costs at Renard Isle will fall on Brown County property tax payers. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake, but the agencies relieved the polluting corporations of any responsibility for the PCB contamination. The island contains roughly 30,000 lbs of PCBs, compared to the approximately 70,000 lbs of PCBs in the Fox River. It has only a 50 year design life and is built to withstand storms of only 20-year intensity. (It won't withstand a 50- or 100-year storm.) If the island breaks open in the future, and spills its PCBs into the bay, it will re-contaminate the system and ruin the effects of the Fox River clean-up on the bay.
Many local leaders opposed Superfund because they feared the "stigma" would damage our region's reputation nationally and internationally. They should be concerned now that the Green Bay area will have the stigma of a permanently contaminated 7 miles of river which is off-limits forever to any disturbance. We will be known as the community which lacked the foresight or backbone to require protection of its waterway.
"We could have had permanent removal and cleanup of the river, but instead we'll always be wondering if the caps are leaking and whether the next storm will break open the caps and re-pollute the river," concluded Katers. "We wanted to be proud of our community's river clean-up, but now it will be a permanent source of frustration and anger. We citizens need to hold our elected officials accountable for this travesty."
The Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin is a local, non-profit, all-volunteer, citizen group based in Green Bay, with roughly 500 members throughout Northeast Wisconsin. We were founded in 1985 and, among other issues, have worked to promote the Fox River PCB sediment clean-up for all of the past 22 years.
CONTENT BY: Rebecca Leighton Katers
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