The EPA estimates it could be a year before cleanup of the San Jacinto Waste Pits begins, as officials negotiate a plan with the potential responsible parties to tackle the $115 million project.
Such a plan is "obviously a significant piece of work and we need to work out all the details with the parties before signing an agreement," said John Meyer, EPA Region 6 Superfund Branch chief, at a Monday night meeting in The Highlands.
The meeting was the first held since the Environmental Protection Agency announced in October the removal of tons of toxins from the waste pits, which came about two weeks after the agency confirmed that a concrete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak during Hurricane Harvey's floods.
Agency officials found dioxin in sediment near the pit at a level more than 2,000 times the EPA standard for clean-up. Subsequent testing, done after the cap was repaired, showed far lower levels of dioxin in that area, Meyer said Monday. He added that there is a plan to continue testing in the area.
Many of the questions posed to Meyer on Monday dealt with dioxin sampling, with residents concerned about how safe the water will be during and after the cleanup project.
Meyer said the EPA will oversee the cleanup process – expected to take about 27 months – and ensure that it is done correctly.
The pits - which in 2008 became a federal Superfund site – is one of 43 Superfund sites in the coastal areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Hurricanes could happen during that time, Meyer admitted, but the engineering plan currently in the works will safeguard against any those events.
That will include a storm water re-mediation plan, as well as the building of a containment structure around it, he said, "that is strong enough to withstand the storm events we've been seeing."
Jackie Young, executive director of the San Jacinto River Coalition, on Monday commended the EPA for taking this step, noting what would happen if the pits weren't cleaned up.
"The EPA estimates if the waste is left in place it will not degrade in toxicity for up to 750 more years," Young said. "Imagine how many hurricanes we're going to see between now and then."
The companies responsible for the clean-up - McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corp., Waste Management and International Paper Co. - have said they will oppose a removal plan as too risky for the environment.
If these parties fight the plan and their role it, Meyer said the EPA does have options. For example, he said they could go to court to enforce the plan.
But this "certainly" would extend the cleanup timeline, he said.
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