July 23, 2014 10:14:57 AM
A local group's dedication to the cleanup and repurposing of the Kerr-McGee site has received national recognition for its efforts.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that it had named the Memphis Town Community Advisory Group winner of its yearly Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award.
EPA spokesman James Pinkney said the award is presented each year to an individual or community group working with the federal agency to clean up a hazardous waste site, also known as an EPA Superfund site. Pinkney said through the group's monthly meetings, a forum was provided to identify environmental concerns to the community, partner with EPA to find solutions and obtaining grant funding to find a new, safe use for the 90-acre site upon completion of cleanup.
"The Memphis Town Community Advisory Group was recognized for its commitment, dedication and leadership to the Columbus community affected by the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation Superfund Site," Pinkney said. "The CAG has proven to be of significant value to not only the community in which it serves but to the agency as well. The U.S. EPA looks forward to continued partnership with the CAG throughout the investigation and cleanup process at the Kerr-McGee Superfund Site."
Maranatha Faith Center Pastor Steve Jamison, which has led the group since its inception in 2012, said Tuesday's announcement is about more than an award. Rather, it's a sign that EPA is serious about rectifying the problems for residents surrounding the site. In 2003, the plant on 14th Avenue South was shut down and sealed off amid concerns of toxic chemicals, namely creosote, being washed into ditches and property by stormwater, causing property and health damage.
"It is the culmination of a lot of years of hard work and dedication to get to this point," Jamison said. "It's always good to have your work recognized. Once EPA comes online and gives us recognition, they are generally in the process to make sure those communities and those CAGs get all the help EPA can bring there. The potential with this recognition to get our community cleaned up and revitalized and have industry put there that has a viable situation and that will cover the site is very likely now."
In December, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York found Kerr-McGee liable for damages ranging from $5.2 to $14.2 billion stemming from similar issues at 24 sites across the United States including the one in Columbus. The United States Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, which filed the suit, settled last month for the $5.15 billion from Anadarko, which bought Kerr-McGee's major assets in 2006. That amount includes $68 million to remediate the Columbus site and $604 million for claims.
The site has been handed over from the Environmental Protection Agency to Multistate Environmental Response Trust. The details of the clean-up plan take 18-24 months to develop through an investigation of the extent and range of the contamination and another six months of EPA review before it issues its selected plan for cleaning the area before the process can take place.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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