Coast Guard earns praise

Neighbors commend shipyard for sharing pollution information

Site is on Superfund list

Activists urge others to follow yard's example

January 11, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The Coast Guard Yard is a Superfund site, but that hasn't stopped residents around Curtis Bay from declaring the Pasadena shipyard a good neighbor.

In the two years since the 104-year-old yard landed on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of the nation's most hazardous sites, environmental engineers have been inviting the neighbors over to show them old burn pits, salvage lots and dry dock sediment.

Now, community activists are hoping the Coast Guard's example will encourage other companies around Curtis Bay to share information on pollution at their properties and to work with regulators on cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Members of the Community Advisory Group, a new citizen panel that will help oversee the yard's cleanup, plan to start lobbying the EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment to approach the area's cleanup in a more holistic way.

The Coast Guard is "stepping up and doing the right thing on a topic that people are loath to talk about sometimes," said Marcia Drenzyk, a Pasadena resident who has been attending regular meetings at the yard. "There is a huge contrast between them and other companies in the area."

Last week, Coast Guard staff members prepared a slide show with maps and in-depth graphics showing the location and extent of the contamination.

The yard's commanding officer, Ronald J. Rabago, pledged to lead the way in restoring the area's environmental health, and its engineer, Howard Galliford, promised to research federal pilot programs that would offer the yard a chance to cooperate with neighboring industries on cleanups.

"We can be a forum. We can be a seed. That would be a big step forward," Galliford said.

The Coast Guard has spent about $2 million investigating several potentially contaminated sites, including a former burn pit that now is a parking lot and a one-time incinerator that now is a grassy field.

Soil samples collected around the yard revealed traces of pesticides, degreasers, metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs. Coast Guard officials say the contamination dates from World War II, when more than 3,000 employees worked round-the-clock at the yard. Activities included stripping paint, cutting metals and spraying pesticides.

Coast Guard officials said the contamination poses no risk to human or aquatic life, and much of it is barely above the federal accepted levels. Nevertheless, Rabago said, the yard has a responsibility to address the contaminants.

"The point is, we don't want them on our facility, so we're going after them," Rabago said.

The Coast Guard is collecting information and will not begin any cleanup until the first site studies are finished, perhaps this year.

Galliford said he is not sure which sites will require further action and which are better left alone.

Drenzyk and other residents say they're thrilled to be sitting at the table with an industrial neighbor. Many have spent the past decade fighting Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over concerns about fly ash and anhydrous ammonia, the Maryland Port Administration over a plan to create a dredge island and wealthy developers over a proposed racetrack.

The disputes led to the creation of a network that neighbors are using to clean up the oft-forgotten peninsula. Resident Jennifer McBride has started the Curtis-Marley-Furnace Watershed Association to study the water quality of the area's long-closed creeks in hopes of reopening them for swimming.

Recently, area residents have been fighting Virginia-based Valley Proteins over plans to reopen a cooker that renders animal carcasses into livestock feed. Since a fire destroyed the cooker two years ago, residents have said, the neighborhood has smelled better.

They hope their pleas will persuade Anne Arundel County and the Maryland Department of the Environment to deny the company the permits needed to reopen the cooker.

Coast Guard officials and neighbors will meet quarterly over the next year to discuss the yard's cleanup and how to involve the other companies in restoring the area. The group's members acknowledge that progress will take time but say the parties are headed in the right direction.

"I know everyone wants it done quickly," Rabago said. "But there's a process, and it's a good, solid process, and I'm convinced if you follow all those steps, you will have a clean environment."

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