At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials released the Superfund Task Force Final Report Monday.
The 77-page report identifies 42 recommendations under five goals to improve the agency’s implementation of the Superfund program to accelerate cleanups and shorten the path to redevelopment and safe, productive reuse.
“I think today is an indication that the current EPA and this administration is continuing to move forward. I know when the new administration took office back in the 2016 election, the regional EPA director came down here and continued to move along the process,” Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan said. “I’m glad to see this today because it is a long process, but it’s moving.”
In 2009, when Ryan first took a tour of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, he remembers seeing a black discharge seeping through the area with old fishing rods and camping equipment left behind.
“It was awful,” Ryan said. “But the process has been moving since the Obama administration, and this current administration is continuing it.”
According to the report, the recommendations made by the Task Force address: “expediting cleanup and remediation process; reducing financial burden on all parties involved in the entire cleanup process; encouraging private investment; promoting redevelopment and community revitalization; and building and strengthening partnerships.”
Jacquelyn Young, executive director of Texas Health and Environment Alliance, thanked the EPA for their hard work and for the attention the agency has given the waste pits in recent years.
“This site, in my opinion, never received the type of attention it did until former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took office, and the Task Force was set up,” Young said. “We really appreciate the work that’s been done in recent years.”
The final report outlines significant accomplishments over the past two years at Superfund sites across the country. In regards to the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, significant progress included the EPA signing the Record of Decision in October of 2017, along with the EPA and potentially responsible parties entering into an administrative settlement agreement in April 2018 to complete remedial design for the site.
Remedial Project Manager Gary Baumgarten said best-case scenario to finish design, which would be followed up by construction and removal, would be Spring 2021.
“We have an order in place to do the remedial design, and the remedial action needs a consent decree, which requires the Department of Justice to do that work,” Baumgarten said. “So our goal is to have the design finished and the consent decree in place at the same time so when we finish design we can start working (on removal).”
The cleanup remedy for the waste pits, which is estimated to cost $115 million, aims to remove 212,000 cubic yards of toxic material from the two impoundments.
The site, located at the intersection of the Interstate 10 bridge and the San Jacinto River contains high concentrations of dioxin.
The Superfund Task Force, which was comprised of over 100 EPA career employees, was commissioned in May 2017, to “provide recommendations on how the agency can restructure the cleanup process, realign incentives of all involved parties to promote expeditious remediation, reduce the burden on cooperating parties, incentivize parties to remediate sites, encourage private investment in cleanups of sites and promote the revitalization of properties across the country.”
“This report represents the finalization of the Task Force work but its just the beginning of the next stage,” Steven Cook, EPA deputy assistant administrator, said. “Moving forward, we’ll be implementing these recommendations so that we make sure all the sites on the National Priorities List get returned back to the community cleaned up.”