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Pepe Field Superfund Site Cleanup Announcement Boonton, New Jersey

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Pepe Field Superfund Site Cleanup Announcement
Boonton, New Jersey

                       February 20, 1998

     Thank you Congressman Frelinghuysen. It's a pleasure to be here with you, and I thank you for your personal commitment to the cleanup and restoration of Pepe Field.

     Thank you also Mayor Bolcar and Deputy Commissioner Smith. EPA is proud to be a partner in your efforts to make New Jersey communities safer and healthier, to take neighborhood blight -- such as this Superfund site -- and replace it with hope and economic prosperity, so we can work together to renew and rebuild our communities.

     Today, I bring with me good news for all of you here, and good news for the people of Boonton. I am announcing, today, $10 million for the cleanup and restoration of Pepe Field. I know that the citizens of Boonton have waited a long time for this news, that this day was too many years in coming. But I am here to tell you that we are making progress, that we are on the road to recovery, and that you won't have to wait much longer to hear "play ball" at Pepe Field.

     Starting this summer, we will begin transforming the Pepe Field Superfund site into the Pepe Field Recreational site. Over the next year, we will excavate, treat, and properly dispose of more than thirty thousand tons of contaminated soil, and when we're finished, when the people of Boonton take a deep breath, they will be able to smell ballpark hotdogs and hamburgers on a hot summer day, not the toxic pollution that has so long plagued this town.

     The restoration of Pepe Field is a symbol of what we can accomplish when we work together to cleanup these sites.  The Clinton-Gore Administration believes that no child should have to grow up near a toxic waste site, that no community should have to be held back by toxic waste or an abandoned industrial property -- and that working together, we can get these sites cleaned up.  We can set the stage for new economic growth.  We can work together to pave the way for progress.

    When President Clinton, Vice President Gore and I came into office five years ago, we sought to reinvigorate the nation's hazardous waste cleanup program -- to make it faster, fairer and more efficient -- to enable it to live up to its original promise.

     By any measure, we are making a great deal of progress.

     We are now cleaning up more sites faster and at lower cost.

     Under the President's leadership, 351 Superfund sites have been cleaned up -- more than twice as many as in the previous 12 years combined. Almost 90 percent of all Superfund sites are either cleaned up or in the midst of cleanup.

     We owe all this progress to fundamental changes this administration has made to the Superfund program. First, we have sought to do more to involve local residents and their community organizations in the cleanup process -- something we believe is critical to ensuring the ultimate success of any cleanup.

     If we ever doubt this -- the importance of involving the people most affected -- we just have to look at Pepe Field.

     Here in Boonton, public involvement has been absolutely critical in helping us craft the best cleanup remedy possible. Together, we arrived at a solution that will be permanent, require no long-term oversight, and it will allow the city to reuse the property for recreation, or for whatever it wants.

     Again, I thank the people of Boonton for all their help.

     Another critical change we have made to Superfund is our commitment to the people who live around these toxic waste sites to do everything in our power to put cleanups on the fast-track. Once a cleanup plan is in place, there is no reason to wait around when shovels are ready to hit dirt.

     That's how we felt about Pepe Field. The bulldozers and backhoes will be here two years ahead of schedule because we found innovative, time-saving ways to get to cleanup faster. For one, we refuse to micromanage this cleanup plan -- we will focus, instead, on the end results, not on the time-wasting details of how we get there.

     Under the President's leadership, we are working overtime to find ways to make the Superfund liability system more fair. We are getting "the little guys" out of the litigation web that surrounds many hazardous waste sites, and, in fact, the Clinton Administration has acted to remove more than 10,000 small parties from Superfund litigation.

    And we have kept faith with the original promise of the Superfund law -- protect public health and the environment first-- and ensure that, wherever possible and appropriate, those responsible for polluting a site, and not the taxpayers, will be held responsible for the costs of cleaning it up.

     The town of Boonton, the owner of Pepe Field, will not have to pay to clean up this site. This means that local taxpayers, the people that have had to put up with the smell and inconvenience of this site for so many years, will not have to bear the cost of its cleanup. That simply would not be fair.

     Finally, we have strengthened our efforts to help states, cities and communities redevelop their brownfields -- the old, abandoned industrial sites that may not be contaminated enough to qualify for Superfund status, but nevertheless are barriers to economic progress in many of our communities.

     Yes, we have made great strides. But, we need to do more. We need to make the Superfund Program as fast, as fair and as efficient as it can be.  We have a goal, one set by the
President himself: 400 more sites fully cleaned up by the year 2001.

     But, to do this, we need to reform the Superfund law and, very importantly, we need to fund the Superfund Program at the level requested by the President so that we can begin work at toxic waste sites across the country that just like Pepe Field are ready for cleanup, but which have fallen victim to funding shortfalls.

     We are committed to working with Congress to make this happen. We are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that we pass reform legislation this year. And we are committed to doing what it takes to ensure that Congress funds the Superfund Program so that we can meet the President's cleanup challenge.

     When you see the payoff -- new hope, new jobs, new progress, a recreational field reborn  -- then you really can see the value of what we're trying to do with the Superfund program.

     Again, I want to thank Congressman Frelinghuysen, Mayor Bolcar, and the staff at EPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for your hard work. So much energy has gone into this -- to get a remedy that protects the public health, repairs a damaged environment and helps build a strong community in the process.  The cleanup of Pepe Field will be an inspiration for Superfund cleanups across the country. We have much to be proud of here today.

     Thank you.