03 April 2009

Aerojet OB/OD and Public Comment

As stated in a recent entry in this blog, there was an open house held on 26 March at the McCoy Equestrian Center to inform the public about the state's DTSC (toxic substances control department) certification of an Open Burn/Open Detonation site at the former Aerojet munitions testing facility as clean and, thereby, closed.

In press coverage in the Chino Hills Champion, it was noted that two reports about the closure of the OB/OD were to be made available for public review prior to the event, but that this had not, in fact, been done. The intent was to provide these copies at the Chino Hills Library and they may, actually, be there now.

This issue of fundamental public disclosure and a related one having to do with the consequent compromising of the public comment period have been raised by journalist Michael Collins of Enviroreporter.com, who has done extensive investigations of the cleanup process for several years. Indeed, in an e-mail to a DTSC representative, Collins has pointed out that, the two reports in question have not yet been posted on the department's "Envirostor" page which documents the history of the Aerojet project and lists landmarks in the cleanup process. Moreover, the latest dates on this site are 23 September 2008 under the "Facility History" section and September 2005 for the three types of cleanup activities listed.

Collins' concern is an important one: if this project is to have full public disclosure, as mandated by state and federal law, it would seem essential that web site information be up-to-date, as well as that reports promised to be available, whether actually read or not, be produced as stated.

On top of this, a comment form distributed at the open house and asking for public comment by letter or e-mail by 10 April, a week from today, did not provide an e-mail address to which to send comments!

Finally, Collins makes the compelling argument that, because the relevant documents were not available by the 26 March event, which came two weeks after the review period ostensibly began, that period should be extended to a month after said documents were provided for public review.

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but it is important to point out the problems with the lack of updated information, late delivery of crucial public documents, and the corresponding effect these have on the one-month comment period which now began three weeks ago.

Collins, a seasoned investigative journalist, has done what his profession mandates: asking the relevant questions so that officials, to use his words, "adhere with due process (and common sense)" to full public disclosure. Unfortunately, the matter is complicated by the lack of public awareness and involvement.

And, yes, there are plenty of preoccupations out there: the economy, kids and family, watching a game played by athletes or a movie starring actors making more money this year than most people will make most of their lives, or whatever. I barely got in fifteen minutes on my way from work to picking up my kids from daycare when I attended the open house, and had only enough time to scoop up some literature and listen in on some conversations. But, it's hardly surprising to see what slips through the cracks, or is swept under the carpet, or papered over (choose your cliched metaphor) when the public is distracted. The Romans had their concept of "circuses and bread," meaning that, as long as people well-fed and highly-entertained (that is, distracted), then a lack of engagement opened up too many opportunities for the disregard, intentional or inadvertent, of essentials of public disclosure and/or benefit.

Now, to be clear, this is not suggesting the DTSC is guilty of any intentional malfeasance. But, there are some basic, fundamental requirements and responsibilities borne by public and corporate officials here and they haven't been fulfilled. Fortunately, there are a few people like Collins who are watching.

1 comment:

Michael Collins said...

Thank you for this excellent post, Paul. 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.