State will pursue deal with CTS on polluted site; activists angered

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources will pursue voluntary remediation on the contaminated CTS of Asheville site. Local activists have attacked the move, asserting it will leave taxpayers paying for the cleanup and slow any action.

A draft of the agreement was placed in the EPA repository at Pack Memorial Library last Friday, April 9. DENR is opening a 30-day public comment period today, 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 TCE, a carcinogenic industrial chemical linked to cancer. The agreement stipulates that CTS will submit a plan for cleaning the site after DENR finishes its assessment.

However, the plan has drawn considerable ire from activists and residents of the area, who have long announced — loudly and publicly — their opposition to such a move.

“We’ve been against this since day one,” Dave Ogren, a member of the CTS Monitoring Council established by the county, told Xpress. “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 they [DENR] wanted in the first place.”

Particularly of concern to Ogren and fellow activists is the fact that under voluntary remediation, CTS can’t be forced to pay for more than $3 million of the cleanup, an amount he says won’t come close to clearing the toxins from the area.

“Three million doesn’t clean it up,” he 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.”

Groundwater contamination, by its nature, spreads, Ogren added, and the longer a full cleanup is delayed, the more damage will be done.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has publicly called for better communication from DENR and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (which is handling the above-ground cleanup). The county has paid to put area residents affected by the contamination on city water, and its health department has offered free well testing for area residents.

However, members of the monitoring council and local residents have criticized the board over the past months, asserting that it has not pressed CTS or state and federal authorities hard enough to get the site cleaned up, and that it has turned down opportunities for affordable third-party testing.

County officials, however, have said that they are doing all they can in a situation where EPA and DENR have most of the jurisdiction and power.

As for the activists, they’ll be making their feelings known at the board’s next meeting, where the commissioners will receive an update from EPA and DENR officials. While area resident Tate McQueen will speak on behalf of the group, other members of the community will stand outside in protest.

“Simply put, we thought we might get some of our questions answered,” Ogren said. “But they [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.”

They’ve also organized an April 30 meeting at the Skyland Fire Department and hope to get local, state and federal officials to attend and hear their case.

Click here to go to Xpress Files and read the draft agreement, as well as a host of other CTS-related documents.

Citizens who want to address their comments on the proposed deal to DENR may write to:

Ms. Bonnie S. Ware
Project Manager, Superfund Section
North Carolina Division of Waste Management
585 Waughtown St.
Winston-Salem, NC 27107

— David Forbes, staff writer


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