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Make clean-up of the toxic landfill a No. 1 priority

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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My father cares about the city I call home. He wants me in a safe and clean environment.

So I showed my father the city of Lincoln’s April 23 staff report that shows 10 toxic substances “have elevated concentrations of contaminants” and that toxic materials at the closed Virginiatown landfill have migrated into ground water.

Previous monitoring reports note that migrating wastewater is flowing toward the Auburn Ravine.

The staff report was a condensed version of the Corrective Active Plan and Engineering Feasibility Study by Applied Engineering and Geology, Inc.

Earl Stephens, the company’s principal engineer, presented the report at the April 23 City Council meeting. Stephens has monitored the site at least twice yearly every year since 1991 and prepared the city’s compliance reports for the state.

The landfill’s toxic materials include Freon, chloroform, Benzene, vinyl chloride and lead.

I gave my father the report because he is a respected reliability engineer since the ’50s and a statistical quality control instructor since the ’80s. I knew he would have an unbiased, scientific answer about how the city should clean up the landfill.

“An engineering rule of thumb is that, in the long run, the cheapest way to do something is to do it right the first time,” my father said after reading the report.

Of the eight options listed in the Applied Engineering and Geology report, my father recommends over-excavating the site and removing all the hazardous materials. While it is the most expensive option (between $4 million and $14 million), it involves the least amount of future monitoring costs (which cost about $130,000 a year). If monitoring can eventually be stopped, that means hazardous materials are no longer there and that is in the best interests of residents.

My father said that a Corrective Action Plan should determine the problem’s root cause, include a plan and implement it to remove the problem, and monitor the results to ensure the problem is fixed.

“I recommend the over-excavating and offsite disposal because toxic contamination exceeds the specifications from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,” my father said. “The other measures are Band-Aids, which will have to be replaced again and again.”

How to get rid of the hazardous materials now threatening Lincoln’s groundwater has become an unnecessary fight between Lincoln City Councilman Spencer Short and the four other council members.

I say unnecessary because there is only one good option, the option my father favors.

That is also the option Short is fighting for amidst a council that seems more concerned with providing a Band-Aid that stalls removing the hazardous waste.

The city’s public works department recommended an option that wasn’t listed by the Applied Engineering and Geology report. The city asked Stephens to evaluate repairing the clay cap over the landfill, which would prevent rainwater from penetrating the dump and creating wastewater that might migrate into the water table.

In the report, Stephens stated repairing the clay cap would initially cost the city $611,000 and require ongoing monitoring at an annual cost of $130,000. Stephens said that this method would not remove the source of the groundwater contamination or prevent groundwater at the landfill from being further contaminated.

In a special council session on April 29, all City Council members except for Short voted to go with the clay cap repair “Band-Aid.”

Short is standing up for residents by pushing for the over-excavation option. From the vote taken at the special April 29 meeting to consider options, the other four council members (Peter Gilbert, Gabriel Hydrick, Paul Joiner and Mayor Stan Nader) don’t seem concerned about removing the landfill’s toxic materials. Rather, they are interested in a quick-fix option. This gives future council members the responsibility of having to find a feasible solution.

Short first publicly alerted the public about the landfill problem at the April 23 City Council meeting when he pulled the consent item about the various options. If he hadn’t pulled the item, the council would have automatically approved city staff’s recommendation to install the clay cap. The ensuing discussion led to the April 29 closed session meeting.
Right after the April 23 council meeting ended, I asked the city’s public-services director Mark Miller if the closed landfill was a danger to residents. He said that it was not a danger and implied that fixing it would be easy. .
Why then was City Council concerned with possible fines accruing from the California Water Quality Board, as of May 15, if no action is taken?

“I wouldn’t want to live near the landfill as it is now,” my father told me. “The number of wells they have drilled is a statistically significant random sample to describe the entire area of the landfill. Samples show excess substances, including lead.”

My father has full confidence in Stephens’ work.

The city of Lincoln should likewise take Stephens’ advice about cleaning up the landfill. Unfortunately, city staff members haven’t since they want to only repair the clay cap.

Whether the California Regional Water Quality Control Board will be satisfied with the council’s April 29 decision remains to be seen.

“I have a different view about the interrelation of the landfill and our water supply than the other council members,” Short said. “I’m looking for a longer term and permanent solution to the issue, which is taking that stuff out. The primary difference between council and this vote is on how we approach the issue. I have to vote my conscience. The council made a decision, we’ll move forward and deal with what the regional water board’s determination is on the process.”

But wouldn't it be easier, in the long run, to take the best option instead of a non-option? City staff and councilmen need to listen to Stephens so that the residents’ environmental health is not in jeopardy.