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EPA: Want more say on Stauffer?
By ROBERT FARLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 22, 2000
TARPON SPRINGS -- In a move viewed with skepticism by some residents, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a meeting tonight on how to set up a community group to give residents a stronger voice in the controversial cleanup of the Stauffer Superfund site.
A similar effort to set up a community advisory group two years ago stalled. EPA officials say there was not enough community interest then. Several residents contend EPA officials killed it.
In any case, several residents brought up the idea of forming an advisory group during recent public hearings about Stauffer, and the EPA decided to try again. Tonight's meeting will be at 6:30 in the community room of the Tarpon Springs Library, 138 E Lemon St.
Although the EPA would provide administrative assistance, community advisory groups are run by their members. If formed, the group would be different from the Pinellas-Pasco Technical Advisory Group (Pi-Pa-TAG), which mainly provides a way for residents to receive federal funds to pay technical experts for advice on the cleanup.
Angela Leach, a community involvement coordinator for the EPA, said community advisory groups allow residents to get up-to-date information about the status of cleanup activities and let residents provide input to the EPA about the project.
That strikes some residents as disingenuous, since the EPA has already decided on a proposed cleanup plan. It calls for pushing 300,000 cubic yards of contaminated, radioactive soil on the site into two large mounds and capping them. The plan is before a federal court judge for approval as a formal document known as a consent decree. Many residents think the mound-and-cap plan is suspect, and they would prefer that the Stauffer waste be hauled away.
Pi-Pa-TAG secretary Heather Malinowksi said she finds it "ludicrous" that the EPA is now trying to form a community advisory group while simultaneously pushing the consent decree for the mound-and-cap cleanup.
EPA project manager John Blanchard said there is more for an advisory group to do than debate the method of cleanup. For example, he said, the advisory group could weigh in on the design of the cleanup and evaluate groundwater and sinkhole studies.
Malinowksi said she finds the timing of the meeting particularly curious in light of a June 5 public hearing on Stauffer during which two EPA officials walked out. It was a move many residents considered a slap in the face.
"They walked out of a meeting two weeks ago," Malinowski said. "Now they're going to show up smiling and saying they want to communicate with the community? I question their intentions."
EPA spokesman Carl Terry insisted that tonight's meeting is not aimed at simply appeasing an increasingly vocal and hostile community.
"There is nothing phony about this meeting," Terry said. "It is not a PR gimmick on the part of our agency."
Carlene Hobbs, a Tarpon Springs resident, hopes it may not be too late for a community advisory group to help overturn the mound-and-cap cleanup plan.
"If everyone gets together and says, "This is not right,' it may not be too late," Hobbs said.
Hobbs also hopes such a group could get the community "answers to questions the EPA has refused to answer so far."
Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.