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Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Administrator Mike Stoker and other agency officials held an open house in Casmalia Thursday to assure community members the agency was making progress on its five-year final remediation plan for the nearby landfill, a former hazardous waste disposal site.

Held at Orcutt Academy Charter School, the event was meant to keep locals looped in on the final cleanup efforts the EPA has planned for the 252-acre site, which accepted 5.6 billion pounds of material from over 10,000 commercial waste generators between 1973 and 1989.

In 1991, then-Santa Barbara County Supervisor Stoker called for the county to reach out to the EPA for assistance with the site.

By that time, test results from water wells showed that the toxic waste was affecting the groundwater, Stoker said. Previously, officials believed the landfill was located on impermeable clay.

By 1992, the EPA began preliminary cleanup operations, and in 2001, it was formally added to the National Priorities List as part of Superfund, a federal program which identifies locations that have been polluted for long-term cleanup.

Thursday’s event — which drew around 15 people — featured numerous posters and exhibits with information about Casmalia’s history and the remediation plan. The plan calls for the removal of contaminated liquids and soils, engineered capping of waste disposal areas and the design and construction of upgraded groundwater collection and treatment systems.

Other EPA officials at the event included attorney Karen Goldberg, community involvement coordinator Alejandro Díaz and Russell Mechem, the EPA’s remedial project manager for the Casmalia site.

Mechum said officials were moving into the design and construction phase of the plan. Following the design and initial engineering work, which will be done over the next few years, the agency plans to carry out its remediation efforts in phases over five years.  

“I want people to know it’s going to take a number of years to go through this process,” he said. “We’re going to be doing a phased construction process where the site has been divided into areas and for each year, there are certain parts of the site that are going to be worked on.”

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Dallas, Texas-based Jacobs Engineering Group has been hired as the primary contractor for remediation work at the site.

The goal is to ultimately get to a point where the site, or at least part of the site, can be removed from the National Priorities List, Stoker said.

Thursday’s event was meant as a follow-up to the June 2018 event at the landfill where then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Stoker first unveiled the five-year plan and signed the “record of decision” for the site.

The document laid out the agency’s remediation plan for Casmalia, which will cost approximately $60 million over five years. Following the initial five years, ongoing monitoring and maintenance will continue indefinitely at an estimated cost of around $4 million per year.

“For 27 or 28 years, EPA has been working with this community and this community has been so engaged, just like you were before in wanting to make sure the right thing was done,” Stoker told the gathering at the open house.

Stoker said he was unhappy the previous event — held just days before Pruitt resigned — was closed to the public, with only those who possessed invites allowed to attend.

“As many of you know, Administrator Pruitt was under a lot of scrutiny [at the time],” he said. “And because of the scrutiny he was getting, he made it a closed event. You had to go through a gate, you had to go through security or you didn’t get in.”

After that event, Stoker said he asked his staff to begin planning for an event in Casmalia that would be open to the anyone in the community.

“I believe in openness. I believe you involve everybody, you involve the stakeholders so we can have a community event the way it's supposed to be,” he said.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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Santa Maria City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.