A year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement that it would clean up the Sharon Steel site in Midvale by capping tailings was met with such fierce opposition that the federal agency backed away from its plan.
Wednesday night, when the federal agency released a list of five alternatives for the tailings site cleanup at a hearing in the Midvale City Auditorium, the opposition was equally fierce.Public officials, Midvale residents and chemical recycling experts, sensing that after a year's study the EPA was again leaning toward capping the tailings, demanded that the EPA consider an alternative that would include reprocessing - transporting the tailings to a place where a chemical recycler could extract precious metals.
The five EPA alternatives, which ranged in cost from $1.5 million to $2.8 billion, include excavation and hauling, site control through steady maintenance, two capping alternatives and a no-action plan.
None of the alternatives discussed at the hearing included reprocessing. Early in the hearing, Sam Vance, the EPA remedial project manager assigned to the Sharon Steel cleanup, said that though many Salt Lake representatives had advocated reprocessing, it hadn't been evaluated as an alternative.
But after listening to two hours of testimony, Patrick Godsil, hazardous waste management division deputy director for EPA's Region VIII, responded that a year ago, the agency "got a clear message we had overlooked processes for reprocessing."
Godsil promised that a remediation proposal due to be released by Oct. 6 "will include looking at the reprocessing alternative."
"Is reprocessing a viable alternative? We're going to take a look at that," he said.
The tailings contain toxic substances such as arsenic and lead that have contaminated nearby soils, groundwater, aquifers and the Jordan River. Capping the tailings would mean they would be covered but not necessarily rendered harmless, according to critics of the capping proposal.
"We will not allow the material to remain as a threat to the health of the valley," said Midvale City Councilwoman JoAnn Seghini.
Rep. Wayne Owens, R-Utah, in a statement read by an aide, urged the EPA to extend its studies to include a reprocessing alternative even if it meant delaying the remediation.
Former Utah Sen. Frank Moss eloquently reminisced about the trouncing the EPA received when it proposed capping the tailings last year. "There was a whirlwind" from Capitol Hill across the valley, Moss said.
"We are not going to settle for capping and keeping in place that pile that is known as the tailings," he said and urged the agency not to dismiss the idea of removing the tailings through a slurry pipeline.
Midvale City Councilman Ronn Cowley said the whole cleanup plan should be put on hold until reprocessing could be evaluated, and his statement was supported by council members George Deneris and Seghini.
"We need a cleanup, not a coverup," said Deneris, alluding both to the tailings and to the pervading sentiment that the EPA was not dealing squarely with the city, the valley or the chemical recyclers who have said they would gladly haul off the tailings for the chance to reprocess them.
Some of those present at the hearing said they doubted that the EPA could do a proper job of evaluating reprocessing in the time it has set to complete a remediation plan proposal, and they expressed fear that once the EPA had developed the plan, it would defend it until it became the decision of record for the cleanup.
But Vance said that would not be the case. Any plan can be amended to include reprocessing before the March 1991 deadline for the decision of record, he said.
And, said Vance, despite statements made by some of the people at the hearing, the EPA has not decided which alternative it will ultimately settle on.