There are a number of contaminated sites across the state that are expensive to clean up. The contamination comes from a variety of sources including industrial sites and businesses that use chemicals.
Because of the cost and rigorous standards, it was difficult to get these sites cleaned up in a timely matter. Several years ago the state decided to make it easier for companies to clean up the contamination. They did this through two programs. Those involved say it has led to quicker cleanup and provided communities with economic opportunities. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
BOB BECK: Wyoming’s Voluntary Remediation program allows companies who report their contamination to work with the state to develop a collaborative plan to clean up the contamination. The Department of Environmental Quality’s Jerry Breed is in charge of the program.
BREED: As long as they comply with the remedy agreement and conduct the cleanup, we agree that we won’t sue them for anything else. Once they’ve completed the cleanup we give them a certificate of completion and that’s the only program where they can get that kind of assurance from the state.
BECK: That certificate makes the property attractive to potential developers. The other benefit to the companies is that they can restore a contaminated land to a much lower standard than if they weren’t in the program. Bob Conlon is overseeing Chevron’s cleanup of what is known as the old Texaco Refinery near Casper. Conlon says the slightly reduced standards allows the cleanup to move a lot more quickly.
CONLON: We have reached the commercial industrial standards on the soil and we are in the process of developing our final groundwater remedy for the DEQ on the property, which will take a number of years to remediate.
BECK: Commercial standards are less rigorous than residential standards. However, Conlon does not believe that companies are being let off the hook.
BOB CONLON: It is a highly regulated process, like I said you write work plans and you go out and do the work and write reports on that particular aspect.
BECK: Conlon says the clean-up of the refinery property could be a showcase for what a successful remediation effort looks like. He notes that a wind farm has been erected on part of the property and the southern portion of the property has been sold to a local developer.
BECK: The DEQ’s Vicki Meredith oversees another effort known as Brownfields, where communities can get money to restore some abandoned industrial sites…clean them up…and use them. She mentions an old sawmill site in Dubois and Evanston’s Roundhouse and Rail yard as two examples where the program is working well and communities will gain.
VICKI MEREDITH: Those are two kinds of industrial sites that would have just basically sat there and gotten rocks thrown at them and laid idol and not have been put back into productive re-use because the local government would not have the ability to investigate or clean up those properties.
BECK: Former Evanston City employee Jim Davis worked on the Roundhouse project. He says it allowed the city to pay for expensive water monitoring. When it was proven that the water was clean, it allowed the community to get an additional 12 million dollars to clean up the site and develop a community center and convention center.
JIM DAVIS: I want to emphasize that the buildings are used all the time, in fact they are almost booked a year in advance for all kinds public events, weddings, private events, as well as conventions.
BECK: Meredith adds that both programs really help communities.
MEREDITH: You know industry does have some benefits with the incentives, but really it’s provided these communities with these nice redeveloped properties that would have not been redeveloped had the law not been put in place.
BECK: The D-E-Q says hundreds of sites have been and are being cleaned up through these programs and as a word get out more companies are getting involved in the programs. Meredith says in the past, many of those sites would not have gotten cleaned up because companies often didn’t report the contamination and couldn’t afford to clean it up to previous standards. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.