State to pursue deal with CTS on contaminated site; activists angered

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources have proposed a voluntary company cleanup deal on the contaminated former CTS of Asheville site. Local activists have attacked the move, saying it will delay any action and ultimately leave taxpayers paying for the cleanup.

Toxic: The former CTS of Asheville site is heavily contaminated. CTS and the state have proposed a voluntary cleanup deal that local activists say won’t really fix the problem. Photo by Lenny Siegel

A draft of the agreement was placed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s repository at Pack Memorial Library April 9. DENR opened a 30-day public-comment period on April 15, inviting the public to mail their comments to the agency’s Winston-Salem offices.

The Mills Gap Road site and parts of the surrounding area are contaminated with trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent and suspected carcinogen. The agreement stipulates that CTS will submit a plan for cleaning up the site after DENR completes its assessment.

But local activists and area residents have loudly and publicly opposed such a move.

“We’ve been against this since day one,” notes Dave Ogren, who serves on Buncombe County’s CTS Citizens Monitoring Council. “We’ve opposed it and we’ve sought answers. We haven’t gotten them; we haven’t gotten answers from anyone. It seems like this is the outcome [DENR] wanted in the first place.”

Of particular concern to Ogren and his fellow activists is the fact that a voluntary remediation would cap CTS’ liability for the cleanup at $3 million, an amount he says won’t come close to removing the toxins from the area.

“Three million doesn’t clean it up,” Ogren asserts. “That leaves the state holding the bag. The state’s out of money. That means the taxpayers of Buncombe County will be left footing the bill—and given the state of the county, that means that it won’t get done in time.”

By its very nature, adds Ogren, ground-water contamination spreads, and the longer a full cleanup is delayed, the more damage will be done.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has publicly called on both DENR and the EPA (which is handling the above-ground cleanup) to do a better job of communicating with the public and county officials. The county has paid for putting residents affected by the contamination on city water, and its Health Department has offered to test wells in the area for free.

But both monitoring-council members and local residents have criticized the commissioners in recent months, charging that they haven’t pressed either CTS or state and federal agencies hard enough to get the site cleaned up, and that they’ve turned down opportunities for affordable third-party testing.

County officials, however, have said they’re doing all they can in a situation where the EPA and DENR hold most of the cards.

Activists, meanwhile, were setting their sights on the commissioners’ April 21 meeting, when EPA and DENR officials were due to give an update. Area resident Tate McQueen was slated to speak on behalf of the group of concerned residents, and other community members planned to stand outside in protest.

“Simply put, we thought we might get some of our questions answered,” said Ogren. “But [DENR and the EPA] won’t answer our questions, so we’ll be doing a silent protest outside. We’ll also be in Earth Fare on Earth Day, passing out material making our case.”

In addition, the group has organized an April 30 meeting at the Skyland Fire Department and hopes to get local, state and federal officials to attend.

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