Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More neighborhoods line up against Metro Water Services' new landfill on the Cumberland River and MWS defends itself again

While attending the Salemtown Neighbors meeting this week, I found out that more neighborhoods than the news media has divulged are questioning Metro Water Services' scheme to bury toxic materials in a landfill outside of Salemtown. According to the association, the Buchanan Street and Historic Buena Vista associations have joined Salemtown in opposing the chemical dump. Historic Germantown, Inc, which Tennessean reporter Bobby Allyn reported was not concerned about North Nashville's newest landfill, is said to be taking "a hard look" at the problem in the wake of Salemtown's expressed opposition.

While SNNA leaders also reported that Council Member Erica Gilmore has been working on a solution to the problem, I have no evidence myself to support that. Like has been her past pattern on my expressed concerns about environmental inequities in North Nashville, she has been generally unresponsive to my email pleas to stop the dumping and to fund removal of the debris.

MWS PR specialist Sonia Harvat eventually got back to me earlier this month in defense of her employer's dump in light of questions I asked her about testing frequency, procedure, and holding private contractors accountable for wasting taxpayer money. She wrote:

Metro Water Services staff monitors the outfalls, per TDEC requirement, once a quarter during a qualifying rain event - this could include events on holidays and weekends. As described in the previous email, the monitoring consists of grabbing a sample at each outfall and visually inspecting for the presence of potential contaminants, such as oily sheens, cloudiness, coloring, and odor.

Work has begun to characterize the large mound of soil removed from the biosolids construction site. The protocol, approved by TDEC, calls for soil to be segregated into piles of approximately 240 cubic yards. Multiple on-site tests are conducted on each pile to indicate the area containing the highest potential for petroleum contamination. A sample is collected from the portion indicating the highest potential and sent for laboratory testing. If the lab test indicates the sample is below the level of concern then the contractor may transfer that pile to the demolition site to be used for backfill in the basement. The results of the testing will be compiled into a report.

The material that had been placed in the basement prior to characterization has since been tested and is below any level of concern.

The contractor for the biosolids facility is responsible for testing and proper disposal of material associated with the project. Metro only has a contract with the prime contractor and not the subcontractor performing demolition. Therefore Metro holds the prime contractor responsible for proper testing and disposal, and the contractor must hold his subcontractor responsible.

So, MWS conducted the most minimal, compulsory monitoring for chemicals running off a dirt pile that itself had, according to tests, already shown high levels of toxins. If we take Metro Water at their word, in the past decade they conducted roughly 3 dozen tests of runoff from a previously characterized toxic pile into the Cumberland River watershed.

That may satisfy red-state TDEC, but it does not satisfy me because I live near it. It should not satisfy you, regardless of where you reside, because the Cumberland is your river, too.

The part about contractors and subcontractors strikes me as bureaucratic double-speak and question evasion. I mean, is Ms. Harvat's point that we paid taxpayer dollars to someone who paid someone else to clean up the contaminated soil and if someone else does not cough it up, then Metro Water is absolved from getting taxpayer dollars back? Or if Metro Water did hold the primary contractor responsible and got taxpayer dollars back, then why did she not just tell me straight up, "We got the money back from the contractor", regardless of what they got or did not get from the subcontractor?

It's a simple question: did Metro get us our money's worth when it paid the contractor to have the contaminated soil at the water treatment plant cleaned up? Why can't I get a straight answer to the simple question?

I am pleased that my own neighborhood association stepped up to spearhead the collective opposition to Metro Water's new backfill landfill. Too bad Metro government got in front beforehand of the controversy that they tried to avoid by quietly dumping their mess. Too bad the Tennessean colluded with Metro Water to broadcast the perception that nothing was amiss with dumping in North Nashville. Now our community has hard work to do to beat the injustice.

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