Buncombe Commissioners: Residents blast state, federal officials over CTS

It was a tense (and long) meeting for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners last night, as residents and activists turned out in force at a presentation by state and federal officials on the cleanup of the contaminated CTS of Asheville site, which they blasted as negligent.

Present were officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. They were there to talk about ongoing efforts to clean up the CTS site — and defend a voluntary cleanup deal proposed by DENR.

“This is not a settlement agreement or a limiting document, it’s an acknowledgment that CTS will propose a remedial plan to clean up the site in accordance with the requirements of the law,” Bruce Parris of DENR’s Hazardous Sites Branch told the board. “For efficiency’s sake, a proposed administrative agreement has been made available to the public.”

Parris also said that more testing is needed to “accurately determine the extent of the contamination.” EPA officials said they were continuing to test and have overseen the installation of a system that will remove hazardous vapors.

But residents who live near the Mills Gap Road site also showed up — clad in black in memory of relatives and friends they assert died or became ill from contaminants dumped by CTS — and they weren’t buying it.

“It’s an issue of trust. Time and time again we’ve been in these meetings,” said Tate McQueen, an educator and local resident who made his own presentation to the board. “When CTS was first making noise about its adverse effects in the community, I was 19 years old; I’m 42 now. In that time we’ve had study after study and we’ve had no significant, tangible result. When we enter into agreements with CTS, we need to know who we’re dealing with.”

Parris discussed the $3 million cap on CTS’ liability, mandated by state law as long as the company pursues a voluntary cleanup. While “voluntary” has proven to be a major point of contention, he asserted that in other, similar cases, such caps hadn’t prevented another cleanup from being completed.

“That amount doesn’t include costs of investigation and it doesn’t preclude a civil lawsuit or getting other responsible parties to pay for the cleanup,” he noted.

But McQueen said that it looked to him that “our state is bending over backwards to help CTS almost two decades after the first studies were done” and that the company can’t be trusted.

Activists weren’t the only ones who were upset. After the hour-long presentation, Commissioner Bill Stanley had his own words for the federal and state officials.

“My one question is this: Are you going to clean it up?”

When Parris began to talk about the remediation process, Stanley cut him off.

“Are you going to make CTS clean it up or not? Are you going to do it?” he continued, to applause from the audience.

“We’re in the process of holding them accountable under the law,” Parris answered.

In other developments at the commissioners meeting:

• The commissioners received the annual report from Sheriff Van Duncan on his office’s performance. Duncan asserted that while calls for service have risen, so has the office’s efficiency.

“In 2008, we saw calls for service continue to rise to 54,600 from 51,625,” Duncan told the board. “The good news with that is that our average response time for emergency calls, those that could be life threatening, they were just a little under 11 minutes in 2007. In 2008, through the hard work of the patrol division, we were able to pull that down to 9.25 minutes.”

He also touted the fact that the office’s criminal investigations division had cleared 1,585 of its 3,172 investigations.

“The state average is to clear around 20 percent,” he said. “We’re clearing 50 percent.”

• The board also voted to continue the meeting to a special session on Tuesday, April 28, at 4:30 p.m. in their offices at 30 Valley St. The commissioners will vote on reinstating zoning in the Beaverdam and Limestone townships, following a recent court ruling that overturned the county’s zoning ordinance.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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