Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Camp Fire clean-up stalls amid local disagreements over where to dump rubble from demolished town of Paradise

Over a month after the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California, clean-up efforts in the devastated town of Paradise have stalled because of local disagreements over where to dump the rubble.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials first planned to put the concrete and metal rubble in a 100-acre temporary scrapyard next to a residential site in nearby Chico, but residents and town officials objected and persuaded the government to look elsewhere, Dale Kasler reports for The Sacramento Bee. But the alternative, a 200-acre former industrial site in nearby Oroville, is also unpopular with locals. "Although the decision is out of Oroville officials’ hands, about 100 residents showed up for a town hall meeting last week to protest the location, largely over their fears that the project would stir up toxic chemicals still in the soil. Federal officials say the site is safe," Kasler reports.

At the meeting, "along with the same complaints in Chico, including air quality, traffic, and narrow roads, Oroville residents told of their months dealing with the state Department of Water Resources after the Oroville Dam spillway crisis last year," Laura Urseny reports for the Oroville Mercury-Register. "Even worse were the memories from the days the Koppers plant operated: chemically treated wood, leaving toxins in the soil, followed by several fires that left the site an EPA Superfund site. Several speakers said they knew people who had died because of cancer they said was linked to the contamination."

An Oroville City Council member said she thought debris from Paradise would be "toxic-laden stuff" like the World Trade Center debris from 9/11 that sickened first responders. "State and federal officials insist, however, that the debris from Paradise would be cleansed of hazardous materials long before reaching Oroville," Kasler reports. "The Oroville location would be used to process up to 4 million tons of concrete and metal, rinsed clean of hazardous materials before leaving Paradise by truck. Once the debris arrives, it will be sorted, crushed and shipped elsewhere by rail. The yard would be open for at least a year." The nearest home is 2,500 feet from the proposed site.

State and federal officials hope to begin clearing the town of rubble by mid-January, but local opposition may keep them from meeting that goal. Once that happens, Paradise residents can put travel trailers on their properties and resume living there, Kelly Huston of the California Office of Emergency Services told Kasler.

Incoming mayor Chuck Reynolds told Kasler he understands why many locals are reluctant, but he thinks the site could bring more jobs to Oroville and believes small-town neighborliness is important. "This has to be done, they have to do it somewhere," he said. "We need to help our neighbors, especially in the face of tragedy."

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