Toxic Eagle Picher cleanup to get rolling

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The Eagle Picher site is getting cleaned up, and Mayor Ravi Bhasker updated the council on the matter during his report to the Socorro City Council at the council’s regular meeting March 18.

The Eagle Picher Carefree Battery Superfund Site is about two miles north of Socorro. According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, Eagle Picher manufactured printed circuit boards there from 1964 to 1976, and during that time discharged industrial waste and domestic sewage into unlined lagoons on the property. In 1980, the company leased the property from the city and manufactured lead-acid batteries, again discharging industrial waste into unlined lagoons until 1989, when the city installed a septic tank.

In 2007, the EPA listed the property as a Superfund site in its National Priorities List. The EPA website explains Congress established the Superfund program in 1980 to find, investigate and clean up the worst hazardous waste sites nationwide. Once a site is listed in the NPL, the EPA establishes and implements appropriate cleanup plans. The process can take many years before a site is cleaned up.

Bhasker said the EPA is now doing a preliminary feasibility study of the site. During a recent conference call, he said an EPA representative from Dallas asked what the city plans to do with the site once it is cleaned up. Bhasker told the representative he didn’t know, and that he didn’t think anyone wanted to be on the site. The EPA representative said he would send some suggestions, and the mayor told the EPA he would discuss it with the council.

Bhasker explained the level of cleanup at the site may depend on what the site will be used for next. He said the least they should do is tear down the building on the site, which is likely contaminated. It probably contains asbestos and lead, he said, and he strongly suggested to the EPA that it be demolished.

The EPA representative suggested using the site for soccer fields, but Bhasker said nobody in town would want to play soccer at that site. He said it definitely won’t be for residential development. Any suggestions the council may have regarding another use for the site will be forwarded to the EPA, Bhasker said.

Councilor Donald Monette said people have asked him about using the site for such activities as launching hot air balloons. Bhasker said the site is strictly “off-limits” until it is cleaned up, but a hot air balloon launch area may be a suggestion to forward to the EPA for the site’s future use.

“The (public’s) memory will kind of wane, over a period of time, as to what that place was,” Bhasker said. “But my memory is not going to wane. We’ve had too much trouble with it … and that’s what I told the EPA.”

In other business, the council heard from:

  • Salome, who submitted changes proposed to improve the appeals process of the city’s Police Oversight Commission. He said the process as it stands now is hard to adjudicate. His plan was to submit the proposed changes to the council at the March 18 meeting, and perhaps the board could take action at its next meeting.
  • Fire Chief Joe Gonzales, who mentioned the Socorro Fire Department put up new signs at its stations as required by the State Fire Marshal. He said the department will also buy a new ambulance this year, which is estimated to cost $160,000. He said they may change to a gasoline engine model as there are issues with diesel.
  • Michael Lucero, landfill and sanitation department director, who said the department is close to using its new cell for refuse collection. He said once the state Environment Department gets consultant Marvin McGee’s report and gives its approval, the department will start dumping refuse into the new cell.
  • Paula Mertz, Socorro Public Library director, who mentioned the Friends of the Library spring book sale starts 9 a.m. April 6 on the New Mexico Tech campus, and volunteers are needed to haul books and clean up. Those interested in volunteering can call the library at 835-1114 for more information.
  • Jennifer Gonzales, tourism director, who mentioned the city’s Easter Egg Hunt for children ages 2-12 starts at 9:30 a.m. March 30 at Sedillo Park. For more information on the hunt, call Cindy Rivera at 835-3934. She said the Socorro Adventures Run is April 6, and runners can register at www.newmexicosportsonline.com.
  • Pauline Taylor, wastewater superintendent, who said a motor went out at the wastewater plant and another is being sent to replace it. She said the plant is running fine on two basins right now.
  • Mike Czosnek, building inspector and zoning officer, who said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to do certification on the city’s levy project. FEMA has questions and needs a more current inspection of the levies. Czosnek said he has spoken to the city’s consultant, Weston Solutions, and they’ve begun preparing a response for FEMA. He added the building department issued a permit for a new house this month — the first in 36 months.
  • Jay Santillanes, utilities division director, who said the street department is working on dirt roads around town and hauling dirt for the soccer field. He said in the gas department, he’s drawing up plans to upgrade valves on the main line to improve gas pressure. The city will bid out the project, probably advertising by the end of the week. Bhasker explained the city’s gas lines are low on capacity during some of the coldest times of year. The mayor said it is expensive to add a gas line, but the city can increase pressure by upgrading valves.
  • Finance director Mable Gonzales, who said the city got a notice to proceed on its water meter loan. She said work started that day to replace about 2,000 transmitters for radio read and 400 meters that are too old to upgrade.
  • Bhasker, who mentioned the city is working on getting a van to take people to their dialysis treatments. He also said Alamo is interested in having another shuttle, but the city needs to examine costs.

The City Council also:

  • Approved an ordinance — for publication only — to sell land in the city’s industrial park to Blue Collar Construction. City Clerk Pat Salome stressed the ordinance was being approved for first reading only, and the sale will not proceed until the city goes through the public process. After publication for first reading, the city must hold a public hearing on the matter. The city will then republish the ordinance, and the public has 45 days after that to offer additional input or protest before the sale can proceed.
  • Awarded a construction contract for Cuba Road area drainage and Highlands detention pond expansion to CMC Construction Inc. According to a memo from Dennis Engineering included with the city’s agenda packet, bids were solicited to allow the city to award the base bid schedule with one of two additive alternatives — either articulated concrete block erosion protection, or Portland cement concrete erosion protection. CMC Construction was the lowest bidder for either alternative, at $265,692.19 and $269,251.16 respectively.
  • Approved a purchase agreement with Wagner Equipment for a motor grader. The sales agreement in the city’s agenda packet states the total after tax balance to buy the motor grader is $200,750.