Franklin Hill, director for the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4, speaks to community members about the progress of the former Columbus Kerr-McGee site Thursday morning. Representatives from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Greenfield Environmental Multistate Trust also spoke to members of the community. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
During the Superfund Task Force celebration at the old Columbus Kerr-McGee site, trucks and cranes continued the process of cleaning up the pine yard. Clean-up of the pine yard consists of removing a railroad track still sitting on the property. Creosote-treated railroad ties sit in the background.
Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
July 27, 2018 10:06:10 AM
Partnerships between local, state and federal governments was the theme at a celebration of clean-up at Superfund sites at the former Kerr-McGee site on 14th Avenue North on Thursday.
The event -- attended by city officials and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the surrounding neighborhood -- celebrated the EPA's Superfund Task Force. The task force, formed in July 2017, identified 42 recommendations, such as reducing timelines for site clean-up and communicating with community stakeholders around the sites. Those recommendations were streamlined into five goals, such as expediting clean-up, encouraging private investment and energizing stakeholders -- things EPA Region 4 Superfund Director Franklin Hill said EPA, MDEQ and the Greenfield Environmental Multi-State Trust had been doing at Columbus' old Kerr-McGee site over the last seven years.
"We're already on the cusp of that," Hill said. "We're already taking early actions in this community."
Kerr-McGee operated a wood-treatment plant at the site from 1928 to 2003, by which time the pollutant creosote, which is used to treat wood, had contaminated the plant site and surrounding area. EPA declared the site a Superfund site, designating it a priority area for clean-up along with about 30 other polluted sites around the country, and designated $68 million for clean-up. The Greenfield Trust is overseeing the clean-up process.
There are about 1,800 identified Superfund sites in the country.
Thursday's event was replicated at one Superfund site in each of EPA's 10 regions. Because of the work done in Columbus, Kerr-McGee was the site chosen for Region 4, which covers Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, North and South Carolina.
During his speech at the event, Hill referenced two ditches on the site -- an 1,800 foot ditch on 14th Avenue which was cleaned and replaced in 2014 and 2015, and another 935-foot ditch on Seventh Avenue which was completed in 2017, along with other smaller projects in and around the site.
"We didn't do that by ourselves," Hill said. "We did that collectively ... and this community was at the forefront of it. This community are the people who held us to task. ... Even though we slipped schedules from time to time, they would remind us when we were slipping schedules."
He and Greenfield Trust Senior Strategist Lauri Gorton credited residents around the Kerr-McGee site -- located in the Memphis Town community -- for diligently pushing clean-up efforts and being involved in plans for redevelopment.
"That inclusion in the work that we're doing is the way that things should be done," Gorton said.
While clean-up in Columbus is still about a year behind schedule, Hill said the partnerships between the EPA, MDEQ, Greenfield Trust and the community have allowed multiple things to happen concurrently -- specifically clean-up and construction at one part of the site, soil testing at others and plans for redevelopment after clean-up.
The most recent project is clean-up in the Pine Yard, a 44-acre area on the north side of 14th Avenue where wood was stored during the Kerr-McGee era. Owner of J5 GLB Jabari Edwards, whose company is handling the clean-up, said it began this week.
Edwards said his company's first project at the site was the 14th Avenue ditch. That project involved testing the soil and water along the road and digging up the creosote -- a process Edwards called "remediation."
"You test and then once you find out where your constituents are, then you dig it up," he said. "When you come back in, you're actually going to make sure you test and make sure you got it all out. Then you're going to come back in with your clean fill, back fill. In this situation, we came in and we actually put a level of gravel and then we came in and paved it."
J5 also handled clean-up of the Seventh Avenue ditch.
Edwards said he expects clean-up in the Pine Yard to be complete by December. Then J5 will work on a Moss Road ditch on the eastern end of the site. Once that's complete, he said testing will be complete on the 45-acre main site south of 14th Avenue and that his company should be able to begin clean-up there.
"We no longer want to clean up the site and walk away from it and leave it and it becomes just an open field," Hill said. "We'd like to see that property return to the tax rolls. We'd like to see that property make a contribution to the local municipality and government, and we'd also like to see the community realize a benefit from their community being revitalized from years of the plight that's been associated with the site that's basically (been) dormant in this community since 2003."
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