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EPA REJECTS PROPOSED SCHEDULE EXTENSIONS FOR GROUNDWATER CLEANUP AT THE OTIS/MASSACHUSETTS MILITARY RESERVATION (MMR)
Release Date: 03/20/1998
Contact Information: Johanna Hunter, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1041
Boston - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England Administrator John P. DeVillars today notified the Air Force that in response to proposed schedule extensions for groundwater cleanup at MMR, the EPA was taking the following actions:
- rejecting any extension for Landfill-1 (LF-1);
- rejecting any extension for the Ashumet Valley Axial Fence;
- establishing an enforceable deadline for the installation of an in-plume system for CS-10;
- denying the 15 month extension request for CS-10 Southern and Southwestern Fences but granting a 10 month extension conditional on installation of an in-plume system by June 28, 1999; and
- requiring the Air Force to provide sufficient resources for a CS-10 in-plume system.
The enforceable schedules for these groundwater plumes were agreed to in May 1997 in an amendment to the Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA). The Air Force began seeking extensions to these deadlines in January 1998. EPA then hosted a public forum on February 12 to hear from the local community about the proposed extensions. EPA also convened a meeting on March 4 with scientific and engineering representatives from the Barnstable County Science Advisory Panel, Foothills Engineering Inc., and representatives from the Technical Review and Evaluation Team (TRET).
"It is clear to a large degree these extension requests are the result of failures in program management and in adequate financial resources. These reasons for delay are not acceptable," said DeVillars. "The Air Force has repeatedly committed to EPA and the citizens of the Upper Cape that adequate resources, both in terms of technical expertise and funding, would be provided. This decision holds them to that promise."
LF-1 Active Treatment System and Ashumet Valley Axial Fence - No Extension
The Air Force proposed extending the full system startup dates for the LF-1 active treatment system from September 15, 1999 to January 2000 and for the Ashumet Valley Axial Well Fence from September 2, 1999 to April 2000, delays of more than four months and nearly eight months respectively. EPA indicated that it will not agree to these extensions principally for the following two reasons:
- Many of these delays could have been avoided had the Air Force begun the work necessary to meet the current enforceable milestones immediately after reaching decisions for these plumes and submitting the Project Execution Plans. Instead, the Air Force refused to develop enforceable schedules for these systems and to task their contractors to commence the preparation of Sampling and Analysis Plans for these plumes until decisions were reached for all of the plumes.
- Notwithstanding the delays already incurred, the Air Force could meet the enforceable milestones for these plumes from this point forward if steps are taken to compress the timelines in the Air Force's proposed schedule. This can be achieved if the Air Force accelerates the preparation and submittal of the Sampling and Analysis Plans and more aggressively overlaps design and construction activities.
- EPA will add to the Federal Facilities Agreement an enforceable milestone for installing an in-plume system by June 28, 1999 to capture the higher concentrations of contamination in the body of the plume. Representatives of the citizen-based Joint Process Action have been strong proponents of expediting the in-plume component of the original CS-10 decision.
The Air Force proposed extensions from June 28, 1999 to June 2000 for the Southwest Fence and from June 28, 1999 to September 2000 for the Southern Fence/In-Plume systems, delays of twelve and fifteen months respectively. The Air Force has cited the need to conduct the Southwest Operable Unit (SWOU) investigation as justification for these delays.
EPA refused to grant the full extension labeling it "unnecessarily long." Citing the opinions of the SAP and TRET that there may be a direct link to ongoing investigatory work from the SWOU, EPA determined a modest extension is prudent. Recent detections of contamination in wells installed off-base in Falmouth indicate contamination is more widespread in this area than previously anticipated. Tom Cambereri and Brian Howes of the Barnstable Science Advisory Panel stated in a March 12 letter to EPA, "It is presently not prudent to install these fences to achieve containment since the only reason for a rapid installation was to protect an uncontaminated aquifer which now appears to have already been contaminated. Additional data from the SWOU and CS-10 data gap study are needed to properly place these 2 ETR fences." The representatives of the Technical Review and Evaluation Team stated, "...the plume appears to extend much further south than originally thought. This discovery and others that are likely to follow necessitate a re-evaluation of the CS-10 alternative."
In light of this new information and the need to collect additional data to determine the extent and nature of this further contamination, EPA will grant an extension to April 30, 2000 for start-up of the Southern and Southwestern fences conditioned upon the Air Force installing the in-plume system no later than June 28, 1999. These revised schedules will require a significant resource investment, quite possibly beyond the current budget the Air Force has developed, and aggressive project management. DeVillars indicated in his letter that "EPA expects both."
Additionally, the Air Force has already agreed, after extensive negotiations with EPA and the Commonwealth, to meet the original milestones set for system startup of the SD-5 South system, the CS-10 Sandwich Road Fence and Ashumet Pond Fence.
As recently as a January 6, 1998 letter to DeVillars, Mr. McCall, Air Force Deputy Secretary for the Environment, Safety and Occupational Health, stated "Ms. Goodman and I stand behind our previous commitments to fully fund environmental cleanup requirements at MMR." It was not until mid-January of 1998 that the Air Force developed and shared with EPA and the public comprehensive budgets for 1998, 1999 and 2000. These budgets omitted funding for a number of significant MMR cleanup requirements until EPA, with the support of the Cape community, demanded that such funds be included.
Nonetheless, one significant budget omission has not been corrected. To date, the Air Force FY '99 budget includes funding only to implement monitored natural attenuation, despite the fact that active treatment remains the selected alternative for LF-1. Under the FFA, the Air Force is required to "seek sufficient funding through the ... budgetary process to fulfill [its] obligations under this Agreement."
Therefore, EPA is demanding that a separate line item sufficient to cover estimated costs of active treatment at LF-1 be added to the FY '99 budget. In addition, DeVillars indicated funding for the installation of the in-plume system by the enforceable milestone will have to be included in the FY '99 budget.
Accelerated Dispute Resolution
DeVillars indicated in his letter his hope that the Air Force will accept this decision. " I realize that the schedule EPA intends to hold the Air Force accountable for is a very aggressive and ambitious one. Nevertheless, I very much hope you will accept my decision on these matters as fair and reasonable and agree that the milestones we are establishing are achievable," said DeVillars.
If the Air Force disagrees with EPA's decision, it may elect to enter into formal dispute resolution, a process under the Federal Facilities Agreement by which Air Force and EPA senior management would work to resolve these issues. EPA has strongly recommended that if the Air Force chooses to take this step, the accelerated dispute resolution process be utilized. Under conventional procedures of the Federal Facilities Agreement, dispute resolution can take more than three months. Accelerated dispute resolution elevates the dispute to EPA's Regional Administrator and the Air Force's Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for the Environment, Safety and Occupational Health for resolution within fourteen days. If no agreement is reached during that time, EPA Administrator Carol Browner has twenty-one days to render a decision.
In his letter to Tad McCall, Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Environment, Safety and Occupational Health, DeVillars indicated that some parties had called for no schedule extensions at all.
"This position is politically expedient for some. For many others it is a partial antidote to the anger and frustration we all feel about the pace and difficulty with the cleanup. But ultimately, it is neither sound nor defensible in my judgement. Such an approach would run the very real risk of creating ecological harm as well as invite a legitimate charge of gross mismanagement of public funds," said DeVillars. "That is why I have chosen to steer a different course. I am interested in achieving not only as prompt a clean-up as possible but a successful one as well. I believe my decision meets both these goals."