Press, citizens turned away from CTS meeting

Staff of Rep. Heath Shuler turned away reporters, photographers and citizens from a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 9, concerning the issue of groundwater contamination at the former CTS of Asheville site. The meeting’s location had been changed from Shuler’s Asheville office, and his staff would not reveal the new location or who was attending.

A letter from Shuler’s office announcing the meeting said that regional Environmental Protection Agency representatives, as well as officials from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, would be in attendance. Local officials were also invited, and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Nathan Ramsey‘s truck was in the parking lot.

“The goals of this meeting are to share information gathered by our respective offices on this topic, and to identify both the process by which the site will be cleaned up, as well as the timeline by which remediation efforts are expected to occur,” the letter reads.

Local officials, including Buncombe commissioners, have criticized what they see as a tardy and tight-lipped response by EPA officials to the contamination problem. In July, the county received news that the contamination “plume” of the pollutant TCE might be spreading. Sen. Elizabeth Dole‘s office announced earlier last week that she was also dissatisfied with the EPA’s response, terming it “unacceptable” in a letter to EPA Director Stephen Johnson.

When Xpress reporters entered Shuler’s office on Thursday and asked where the meeting was being held, they were told it had been moved. Then Shuler spokesperson Randy Flack declared that media were not allowed in.

“This is a private, intergovernmental meeting—no press,” he said. Flack also turned away WWNC reporter Tank Spencer and local activist/commissioner candidate Don Yelton.

Ramsey later told Xpress that the meeting lasted five hours and included high-ranking EPA officials from the region, such as the general counsel, superfund site director and congressional liaison. It also included staffers from Sen. Dole and Sen. Richard Burr‘s offices, and DENR staff.

Along with the rest of the commissioners, Ramsey has been critical of DENR and EPA’s conduct on this issue in the past, but he said that after the meeting, he was “hopeful that the process has improved somewhat. We want to get this site fully cleaned up.”

Ramsey said the EPA officials had related that they were taking steps to clean up toxic TCE vapors and “told us they expect to be finished by mid-December,” while the county is cooperating with MSD and the city to get city water—instead of potentially contaminated well water—to the area’s residents.

But Ramsey said tension was high at some points in the meeting, noting that “they [EPA staff] gave us a really long, technical explanation about why it had taken them so long. That was frustrating to hear—and I didn’t entirely buy it. I don’t think the staff from Sen. Dole’s office did either. At one point they almost hung up.” Dole’s Washington staff were teleconferencing at the meeting.

As for the good news, Ramsey said, he was pleased to hear that equipment to extract the contaminated vapors from the site was working well and that the EPA had removed thousands of gallons of TCE over the last few months.

“They’re using the latest, proven technology to do this—it is a step in the right direction,” Ramsey declared.

For documents related to the CTS contamination, go to mountainx.com/xpressfiles.

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