Public workshops on demo plans for Piketon plant announced; critics not satisfied

By Tom Corrigan

The federal Department of Energy has announced four of what they are calling community open houses to discuss “how the process for safely disposing waste generated from the upcoming demolition of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant will help prepare the site for future re-industrialization.”

Meetings are planned for Jackson, Waverly and Chillicothe. A meeting will be held in Portsmouth, 2-7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Scioto County Welcome Center on Second Street.

According to DOE critics, the meetings will simply not be enough to answer all the questions they have regarding the demolition of the defunct uranium enrichment plant as well as what types of materials are going to be placed in what is formally known as a permanent on-site waste disposal facility, but which critics routinely refer to as a radioactive waste dump.

Earlier this month, in an email sent to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and shared with the Portsmouth Daily Times, Piketon Village Councilwoman Jennifer Chandler called for an “honest and transparent meeting” on what criteria is or will be in place governing what the controversial disposal facility will accept.

Piketon Village Mayor Billy Spencer months ago called for much the same thing and, in fact, Piketon Council passed a resolution seeking input into ongoing decisions regarding the waste facility.

“They (OEPA and DOE) are sharing nothing with us,” Spencer told the Times recently.

“The residents of Pike County and Southern Ohio deserve to know what poisons DOE will be allowing to be placed in the ground that will affect the future of our children and grandchildren. It is the responsibility of Ohio EPA to protect the human health and the environment of the people of Southern Ohio,” said activist Elizabeth Lamerson in an email to the OEPA and again shared with this newspaper.

OEPA Deputy Director of Communications Heidi Griesmer previously said her organization has no plans for any public meetings on what is known as the WACIP (waste acceptance criteria implementation plan.) At the time, she pointed to DOE’s promise of “workshops,” though at that point the dates and times of those workshops had not been made public.

In the meantime, Griesmer said DOE continues to work on the WACIP. The WAC, or waste acceptance plan, was approved when the OEPA signed off on the record of decision (ROD) allowing construction of the permanent waste disposal facility. She added OEPA officials will review and have input on the implementation plan. Yvette Cantrell is a local spokesperson for DOE. She supplied the Daily Times with the dates and times of the upcoming workshops. Lamerson lambasted Cantrell in her email to an OEPA official.

“I have spoken to Ms. Cantrell and she wants to pretend that an informational session is the same as a public meeting. I explained to her the difference between a public meeting and the DOE informational sessions,” Lamerson wrote.

According to Lamerson, the difference is a public meeting allows questions to be asked and documented and also allows documentation of any answers.

“If documented questions are asked and answered, then they can be shared with the public, so everyone knows the risks that will be put on us by this massive radioactive, hazardous, toxic waste landfill. On the other hand, an informational session is more like a conversation where anything can be said. A question may be answered two or three or more different ways. There is no documentation, therefore nothing was ever said, nor questions answered,” Lamerson continued.

Cantrell supplied by email the dates and times for the workshops and requested any further questions be submitted to her via email. The Daily Times requested some further information on the nature of the upcoming workshops, but no response was received as of press time.

“We deserve to know the answers to our questions that will forever impact our health, our children, our grandchildren, our homes and our future!” Lamerson wrote.

Describing herself as a fence line neighbor of the plant in Piketon, Lamerson has numerous other questions for the OEPA and DOE. Specifically, she wants to know how contaminants created as buildings are demolished will not be released into the air in the form of dust and so on. She also expressed concerns regarding how soil is being handled in and around the waste disposal facility.

In her email, initially sent to Kristopher Weiss of the OEPA Public Interest Center, Chandler contended plant neighbors are located a little over a thousand feet away from the site of the disposal facility. She claimed the radioactivity allowed in the on-site disposal cell is “unlimited” and none of the waste will be sampled before it is buried. Some of Lamerson’s complaints were echoed by Piketon’s Chandler.

“The public also has a right to know what contaminants will be in the air emissions during demolition and disposal activities and how we will be protected from exposure,” Chandler wrote in her email.

There is still more criticism of DOE’s handling of the ongoing demolition of the mammoth Piketon facility. President of United Steel Workers, Local 1–689 which represents Piketon plant workers, John Knauff has alleged contamination “will be cast to the wind during large equipment demolition and likely contaminate areas of the plant site and surroundings not previously contaminated.”

Knauff’s union recently passed a resolution formally opposing construction of the on-site waste disposal facility.

In the past, plant officials and others have said creation of the disposal facility is the most economical and practical way to dispose of waste materials from the defunct plant. They say the disposal facility will help create more reusable land as materials from several capped off landfills are to be consolidated into the new waste disposal facility. That work was reportedly to begin this morning. A spokesperson for the plant did not return a request for comment on moving the older landfills as of press time but promised more information on the process is forthcoming.

The additional public workshops are scheduled for Jackson on Nov. 7 at LaRosa’s Pizza, 966 E. Main St., in Jackson. The Waverly meeting is Nov. 13 at the Pike County YMCA, 400 Pride Dr. The Chillicothe meeting is Nov. 15 at the Riverview Conference Center inside the Christopher Inn, 30 N. Plaza Blvd. All meetings are scheduled for 2-7 p.m. Persons with questions on the workshops are invited to call DOE at (888) 603-7722.

By Tom Corrigan