07 April 2009

Aerojet OB/OD and Public Comment, Part 2

With only three days left in the public comment period for the certification of closure by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) of an Open Burn/Open Detonation area, composed of fourteen acres, on the former Aeroject munitions testing facility, there are some new items to report.

First, is an article in last Saturday's Chino Hills Champion by reporter Marianne Napoles stating that there were 45,000 fuses, used for detonating ordnance, that were recovered and removed during the 15-year cleanup process of the OB/OD.

A munitions authority, Michael Short of Parsons, Inc., who'd been hired by the City of Chino Hills in 2002 and offered criticism of the cleanup process, returned to review the work done by the third-party contractor, URS Corp., which was brought in to conduct the cleaning of the site.

While Short was commendatory of the work done by URS, which consisted of working with items a half-inch in diameter or larger, he said "there is no guaranteee that all the reactive components have been located, identified, and removed." Having said this, Short also indicated that "the possible hazards they represent are minute in comparison to the items recovered and destroyed." Moreover, the likelihood that missed fragments from fuses of less than one-half inch diameter "should be few in number." Even if there was a detonated item this small, Short said, the chances of the fuse going off would be miniscule whether held or stepped on. As he put it "The chances of either scenario occurring are extremely remote." In sum, Short "believed the OB/OD area is as clean as possible."

While the article reiterated the closing of the comment period as being this Friday the 10th and that "several voluminous reports [are] available for public review" at the city library, there is no mention of the fact that these reports were not available at all until half of the comment period was already passed. A "Response to Comments" will be prepared by the DTSC and made available at the library.

Secondly, Michael Collins, the investigative journalist who has extensively covered the Aerojet cleanup, passed along a comment to the last blog entry on this project, saying:

With only three days left for public comment, DTSC has STILL not posted the two OBOD reports or extended the public comment period so folks in Chino Hills, and other concerned parties, can comment. Your readers can see our letter to DTSC asking for the aforementioned and all we've received so far is a 'we'll get back to you.' This is beyond puzzling - it is a violation of the public trust and due process. What is DTSC hiding? With all the positive press we and others have given the cleanup, this is doubly baffling and can't be explained away by incompetence: if these folks know how to hold a public meeting (albeit without the actual reports that it was about), surely they can make this information available to the public in an easily-accessible manner. The public deserves better than this.

This is true, it is a disservice to the public and a compromise of the disclosure process and Collins is correct that the comment period should be extended two weeks. After all, as he states, is there something the DTSC is hiding? Is there a rush to close the comment period by the 10th? Is Aerojet really going to be able to develop the site in this economic climate anyway?

Fortunately for Aerojet and the DTSC, public awareness, interest and involvement in the cleanup seems to be at a very low level, if the meager attendance of the open house on the 26th is any indicator. Collins and a few others seem to constitute the proverbial "voices in the wilderness" on this one.

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