superfund site

The Many Faces of Superfund

By Barnes Johnson

Sitting adjacent to one of the rarest ecosystems in the world—a freshwater beach dune system—is the Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) Superfund site. Within its boundaries lies Waukegan Harbor, once called by some “the world’s worst PCB mess.” I recently traveled to the OMC site, and the visit reminded me of the multi-faceted nature of Superfund cleanups—how they affect not only the environmental well-being of a community but also its economic and social spheres.

Multiple industrial activities contributed to the OMC site’s contamination, which affects the groundwater, soil and lake sediments. These activities assaulted the harbor and surrounding area not only with PCB contamination but also industrial solvents, heavy metals and other toxic organic compounds for decades.

I went to Waukegan with my Superfund colleagues and others from EPA’s Upper Midwest Regional office to mark an important milestone in the OMC site’s Superfund cleanup: the kick-off of the final dredging to eliminate the harbor’s last vestiges of contaminated sediment. The dredging is also a critical step in removing the harbor as an “area of concern” from the list of toxic hot spots identified in the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The effort in Waukegan is a great example of cross-office collaboration between EPA’s Great Lakes program and its Superfund program.

The land use variation surrounding the OMC site, which currently includes industrial, marine and recreational uses, brings impressive landscape texture. Once cleaned up, the City of Waukegan hopes to expand the site’s land use to include residential and retail components, aspirations which are part of the site’s overall redevelopment. This reuse will lead to economic opportunities including jobs and a broader local tax base; it will complement the economic contribution the Superfund cleanup itself has already afforded through the creation of 280 jobs.

I was also struck by the complexity of the OMC cleanup. The final dredging project, anticipated to be completed by the summer of 2013, will remove over 150,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.

I was impressed by the substantial influence and commitment of the Waukegan citizens’ advisory group (CAG), which was formed more than 20 years ago. The CAG’s focus extends beyond the Superfund aspects of the harbor; through more than 240 meetings, the group has tackled a broad set of issues challenging the harbor’s well-being and has demonstrated its commitment to restoring both the community and this vital ecosystem.

About the author: Barnes Johnson is the Deputy Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and has been with EPA for over 25 years in a variety of positions. In addition to Superfund, Barnes’ EPA work has included positions in the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, and the Office of Solid Waste (currently named the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery). He holds a masters degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management and Applied Statistics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Brevard, NC + Sustainable Approaches = Jobs and a Cleaner Environment

By Matthew Dalbey

On November 17, I traveled with Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to Brevard, North Carolina, a town of fewer than 7,000 people in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The deputies held a roundtable discussion with local officials, community organizations and businesses under the auspices of the White House Rural Council, and released a report, Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities , by the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities and USDA.

Brevard and the surrounding region exemplify how rural towns can use sustainable approaches to create jobs and protect the environment. These approaches include economic development strategies and land use policies that support agriculture, foster thriving main streets, and build on competitive advantages to improve quality of life.

The deputies toured a former paper mill and Superfund site that has been cleaned up and is now ready for redevelopment. The mill was once the largest employer in Transylvania County, so its closure in 2002 was an economic blow. Thanks to an innovative partnership between the developers, EPA, the state of North Carolina, and other stakeholders, the site is being redeveloped with homes, stores, and accommodations for visitors to the Pisgah National Forest. The development is connected to downtown Brevard and the national forest by a bicycle and hiking trail. And it will create over 2,800 permanent jobs.

Deputy Perciasepe called the Partnership report a “physical manifestation” of the four agencies’ commitment to helping public investments work better for rural America and creating good conditions for private investment. The report outlines how rural communities can use programs from the four agencies to get better results for their economies, environment, communities, and public health. Deputy Merrigan noted the Partnership’s efforts to support main streets in small towns, which are critical to the future of rural America.

Having worked on the Partnership since it began in 2009, and particularly on rural issues, I found this trip particularly gratifying. I also enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the rural work we do with the chief operating officers of two agencies with huge footprints in rural America. It was a terrific experience to be in Brevard to hear how leaders in this region are using sustainable approaches to create great places to live—and to show other communities across the country that these strategies can improve quality of life in rural America, even in these challenging economic times.

About the author: Matthew Dalbey is director of the Federal and State Division in the Office of Sustainable Communities.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.