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Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 18, 2012
Selectmen wait for more info on Callahan mine gift

by Rich Hewitt

Selectmen are still waiting for more details on an offer from the Smith Cove Preservation Trust to donate the former Callahan Mine site to the town.

The 150-acre site, which was declared a federal Superfund site in 2002, is currently in the first phase of a cleanup plan. The offer to donate the property came during the annual update on work at the site by representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The selectmen expressed interest, but have heard little more about the offer since then.

“We gave our attorney permission to talk to their attorney, but we haven’t heard any more about it,” Selectman John Gray said.

Their interest was piqued last June when they learned that, if they accepted the property, the town would not become liable for any of the multi-million dollar cleanup costs. The EPA has identified several “potentially responsible parties,” who might be forced to pay a portion of those costs. Included in that list is the current owner, the trust. The trust has two directors, James Benenson and John Curci, and it is registered in Brecksville, Ohio. Since the trust does not have any cash assets, the EPA would not be able to recoup funds from it. EPA officials have repeatedly said that the costs will be borne by taxpayers.

The EPA is currently developing land-use restrictions that would prevent future residential use of the site and also prevent future groundwater use. Given the state of the site and the discovery of more contaminants than originally anticipated, EPA Project Manager Ed Hathaway told residents this summer, it could be a decade or more before the site would be safe for consistent public use. That timeline is not realistic for the trust, according to the trust’s attorney who made the offer this summer.

Meanwhile, the cleanup will continue at least through October. Crews have completed work at the four home sites that had been contaminated. According to EPA documents, all mine waste—almost 5,000 cubic yards of waste—was removed from the properties and almost 6,000 cubic yards of fill was brought in to fill holes and restore those properties. The process required the removal of several septic systems and those have been replaced.

According to Gray, the process also involved drilling new wells for those homes.

“They’ve done a good job down there,” he said.

Overall, Gray said the work has gone relatively smoothly so far and what few problems have arisen have been addressed quickly.

While that part of the cleanup has gone well, the discovery of additional PCB contamination at the mine likely will increase the overall cleanup and costs of the project. This summer, Hathaway told residents that the PCBs had been found throughout the mine site and not just in areas where they had been expected. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyl, are considered an organic pollutant and was found in coolant-type oils and other synthetic liquids that would have been used in mining operations. Their use was banned in 1978.

To remove all of the PCB-contaminated soil from the site could require more than 600 truckloads. The EPA is considering storing materials with lower concentrations on site while continuing to truck the soils with higher contamination levels off site.

PCB cleanup likely will continue into next year. The DEP will be at the Brooksville Public Service building on October 24 at 7 p.m. to further disucss the cleanup and give residents an update on progress.