Vote on Piketon waste facility challenged

By Tom Corrigan -

PIKETON — A spokesperson for the federal Department of Energy (DOE), Yvette Cantrell, told The Daily News earlier this month that in 25 years with the DOE, she has never seen the government reopen a record of decision (ROD), such as is in place regarding the proposed on-site waste disposal facility at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, aka, the A-plant. Nevertheless, opposition continues to surface.

Cantrell and others have said reopening the ROD, which won approval from the DOE and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, is the only way to revisit the idea of building a disposal facility which would house in perpetuity materials from around the Piketon plant site, including demolition materials from the various plant buildings and materials and dirt from landfills already on the site.

On May 10, the Portsmouth Site Specific Advisory Board (SSAB) voted 8-6 in favor of a resolution opposing construction of the storage facility, referred to by many opponents as a dump site. The SSAB is a stakeholder board that provides advice, information and recommendations on issues affecting the environmental management program at the site, according to their website. Although the board voted in favor of the resolution, it did not pass because, according to Piketon Village Councilman Dennis Foreman, who also sits on the SSAB and introduced the resolution, a two-thirds majority is needed for passage of the measure.

Foreman is now challenging that vote, arguing three members of the SSAB should have recused themselves from voting due to various conflicts of interest.

“I will be resubmitting Recommendation 18-02 to the full board and request a special meeting be held to give these members a chance to recuse themselves from the vote. I also expect DOE legal counsel to review these specific conflicts of interest, and I plan to follow up on the issue,” Foreman wrote in an email sent to the DOE on May 15 and shared with The Daily Times.

Foreman claims one SSAB member works directly on the on-site disposal facility. He said another owns a company which does contracting work at the plant site. Finally, Foreman said a third member admitted during a discussion of Foreman’s resolution that he was worried about his wife’s job and, therefore, would not vote in favor of that question. The man’s wife works for Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, the private company handling the cleanup of the Piketon DOE site.

“SSAB members are not subject to the same federal ethics regulations as federal employees and special government employees,” David Barak of the Office of Chief Counsel at the Field Site wrote in an email to Foreman. However, Barak added DOE expects members to “recuse themselves from decisions and discussions related to real or perceived conflicts of interest, act impartially and avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

It is unclear if any new vote will be taken by the SSAB or what effect passage of Foreman’s resolution would have. The SSAB is considered strictly an advisory board, and its resolutions are nonbinding.

A video of the recent SSAB meeting has been posted on YouTube. (Note that, as of Tuesday, YouTube listed the wrong date for that meeting.) During the meeting and in later comments, Foreman’s seemingly main objection to the disposal facility is an argument that has been raised by other opponents, namely that the facility would sit on cracked bedrock potentially allowing leakage from the storage area to reach groundwater. Foreman further argues that the DOE has been selling the cleanup of the Piketon site and the disposal facility as a means to economic redevelopment. Fluor-BWXT only recently announced a large piece of land formally part of the plant is about to be turned over for private use. Foreman notes that land sits adjacent to the proposed disposal site, and questions who would want to invest in a business sitting next to what he terms a radioactive waste dump.

In January, Piketon Village Council passed a resolution opposing the storage facility.

“As the host community and supporter of DOE’s mission at the Portsmouth site, the village of Piketon endures a number of challenges, including the stagnation of our populations, deteriorating infrastructure and perhaps even lost additional business opportunities due to the perception of being a ‘contaminated community that glows’,” the resolution reads in part.

In this instance, “DOE’s mission” is presumed to be the environmental cleanup of the Piketon plant site. Legislators in Portsmouth, New Boston, Jackson and other area communities have passed similar resolutions. Grassroots opposition most vocally comes from a group known as Portsmouth-Piketon Residents for Safety and Security (PRESS). President Vina Colley alleges the site of the storage facility is contaminated with plutonium, and workers there have not been told about that contamination.

“At DOE, safety is our highest priority, for our workers, our community and our environment. The land on which the on-site waste disposal facility is being built has been extensively studied for the presence of hazardous substances, including plutonium. An investigation found that four of 96 collected samples detected trace amounts of plutonium consistent with levels associated with atmospheric fallout and below regulatory limits considered safe for human health and the environment,” DOE’s Cantrell said in a statement released jointly with Jason Lovins, spokesman for Fluor-BWXT.

By Tom Corrigan

Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931

Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931