Frustrated homeowners expressed impatience Thursday at the slow pace of the federal government's efforts to clean up the hazardous waste at the McColl Superfund Site, a plan that could involve the temporary relocation of hundreds of families.
"This has been going on for 15 years," said Bob Campbell, a long-time resident. "You need to solve the problem."
Bill Gibson, a resident since 1982, agreed.
"I took a poll of my street and we want this thing capped," he said.
The comments came at a public meeting, attended by about 100 residents, held by the Environmental Protection Agency in the wake of a recent study criticizing the agency's plan for cleaning up 100,000 cubic yards of petroleum waste at the site.
The three-month study conducted by Shell, Atlantic-Richfield, Texaco, Union Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum concluded that the method favored by the EPA for removing the waste is seriously flawed, primarily because it would generate considerable heat and offensive odors.
"We will not implement" the government's plan, Diana Aceves, a spokeswoman for the petroleum companies, which have banded together under the name of McColl Site Group, said before the meeting. "The reason is that we will not expose the community to the significant odor and temperature impacts."
EPA officials have said that they favor a cleanup method by which each of the 12 sumps dotting the 22-acre site would be injected with a cement-like substance to neutralize and solidify it. The job, they have estimated, would cost up to $97 million and could take as long as six years.
The oil companies, which have been ordered by the government to pay for the cleanup, favor a less expensive approach. Instead of solidifying the 100,000 cubic yards of waste, they say, the sumps should simply be encased and capped by a plastic material. In addition to minimizing the odors and preventing heat buildup, the companies argue, their method would cost no more than $65 million and be completed within three years.
"Solidification would mean more delays," Aceves said.
Montgomery said the EPA intends to spend the next several weeks analyzing the McColl group's findings.
"We're looking at the problems and doing an analysis to determine how solvable they are," he said. "The site will be safe with or without solidification, but from our perspective the reason for doing it is to make the [cleanup] more effective."
The EPA expects to reach a preliminary decision on the matter by late July, Montgomery said. If it decides to stick with its original solidification plan and the oil companies refuse to participate, the EPA will do the work and sue the McColl Site Group for compensation.
If the solidification plan is implemented, Montgomery said, the government may offer nearby residents voluntary relocation for up to three years while the work is being completed. "We know there would be some odors," he said.
He estimated that 100 families would be affected. Oil company representatives put the number closer to 500.
"I don't know where they're going to find accommodations to house that many people," Aceves said.