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EPA explains Stauffer plan

Residents said their concerns didn't seem likely to make a difference.

Published June 14, 2007


TARPON SPRINGS - A little way into an Environmental Protection Agency meeting Tuesday, after several residents had already blasted the government agency for its handling of the Stauffer Superfund site, an audience member interrupted with an unrelated question.

"Is anyone taking notes?" Shawn Foster, a staffer from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis' office, asked the EPA representatives.

Then audience members chimed in: Is there a tape recorder running?

No, the EPA representatives replied.

"I'm trying to listen the best I can," offered Randy Bryant, remedial project manager.

It was a telling exchange on an issue that has pitted a government agency charged with cleaning up the phosphorous-contaminated site against residents who have to live near it.

The EPA called the meeting to outline the agency's new plan for containing the hazardous waste.

But once again, residents said they felt like their questions, suggestions and critiques wouldn't make a difference in the outcome.

As Bryant explained it, the agency is pretty set on its current plan to partially encircle waste ponds with an underground wall and cap contaminated portions of the property.

EPA already spent four years studying residents' concerns, interjected former site manager Nestor Young, and the agency "is at the end of the tunnel."

Still, that didn't stop residents from trying to change their minds.

"We said from the get-go: 'Get the stuff out of here!' " Jessie Burke told the EPA representatives.

Young and Bryant explained that they both felt it was too dangerous to dig up and transport the contaminated soil. Waste leftover from the phosphorus-processing plant is volatile, they said, noting that the last plan to mix the contaminants with cement ignited a fire on the property.

"It's an issue of risk management," Young said.

Residents countered that the real issue was money.

"It's economics," said resident Carlene Hobbs Batman. "It's too expensive to haul the chemicals away, we all know that."

The EPA's new plan will cost Stauffer less than $20-million; hauling away the waste would cost more than $200-million, according to court documents.

The Stauffer company transported phosphorus throughout the town for years without incident, residents said.

"Why can't you ship it now?" Mary Mosley asked the representatives. "Stauffer shipped it all those years."

Young replied that at that time, it had been shipped in a very controlled manner. Bryant added that in its current form - mixed with dirt and other contaminants -- the phosphorus had "no value to the end user."

"Who cares if it has value or not?" Burke fired back. "It does not belong here."

But residents will probably have to live with it. Keeping that in mind, some in attendance at the meeting tried to pick apart the current proposal itself.

"How about let's quit kicking dead horses," said resident Jim McLane. "Let's talk about this new plan."

McLane claimed that because barrels of waste had been buried on the site, EPA couldn't know exactly where all the contamination was. He said they should surround the entire property with an underground wall, not just the highly hazardous portion where the waste ponds were situated.

"Let's take the question mark out of the equation and protect it all," he said.

Young replied that the agency had searched for the alleged barrels and had never found them.

Plus, Bryant said he worried surrounding the whole property would force water to flow downward, leeching into contaminated soil below the wall.

Other residents suggested EPA partly solidify the site; asked for a list of sites where this process had been used before; and questioned how hurricanes, tides, sinkholes and other environmental factors might affect the wall and cap.

But at the end of the meeting, after nearly three hours of back and forth with EPA, they still wondered if it mattered that they had come at all.

"All the questions and concerns we have mean nothing," Hobbs Batman told the EPA representatives. "And if we seem hostile, I'm sorry. We live here."

Elena Lesley can be reached at or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified June 13, 2007, 21:23:36]

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