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American Creosote Cleanup On The Horizon?

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is resuming action on cleaning up a Superfund site in Pensacola. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports.

For 80 years, American Creosote Works operated the plant on Gimble Street treating lumber and other wood products. When it closed in 1981 after filing for bankruptcy, it left behind a legacy of chemicals in the 18-acre’s soil, ground water and surface water. The site was designated a Superfund site and targeted for cleanup by the EPA in 1983.

“It’s one of the more complicated sites that I’ve worked on in my days, but we’re getting to the stage where, I think we’ll be able to implement a remedy and put it into re-use,” said Pete Thorpe, an EPA Remedial Project Manager based in Atlanta.

He says dioxin is one of the chemical by-products that permeate soil and water at the site, and federal cleanup efforts were hindered by a change in Florida environmental law.

“Around 2007-2008, Florida came out with a lower cleanup number for dioxin that was not used previously,” Thorpe said. “That drawed [sic] in a lot more soil that would have to be cleaned up that really wasn’t on the radar before that.”

While the actual American Creosote site remained in limbo, EPA turned its attention to other projects peripheral.

“We cleaned up the Pensacola Yacht Club ditch last summer,” said Thorpe. “We’ve operated a groundwater recovery underneath those ponds and have recovered almost 200,000 gallons of creosote. So work’s been going on and progressing, [but] maybe a little bit slower than some of the people around the neighborhood would like.”

According to the Pensacola News Journal – which covered Wednesday night’s public meeting on the project – residents in the nearby Sanders Beach neighborhood were generally supportive of the EPA, and its work in keeping them informed.

“I come down here on a regular basis and talk with the public,” Thorpe said. “We just had a re-use plan [meeting] in December of last year, where we met with the public and talked with them about what they wanted the site to be turned into. The city wants to turn it into a park and we’re very excited about that.”

EPA is asking for public comment on the cleanup plan until May 22nd. Thorpe says the next document is the “Record of Decision,” which will provide more detailed, technical data.

“Once we get a Record of Decision in place, that’s one of the major milestones in the process.”

That particular phase should be completed by August, then budgets on two other remedial phases – design and action – will require congressional approval. If granted they could be finished by early 2019. If Uncle Sam approves total funding of the cleanup project, the American Creosote property could be clean in 2021.