Should cleanup advisory board meetings be cut back?

The Navy’s top cleanup person for Alameda Point, Derek Robinson, began the September 2011 Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting by asking members to consider cutting back on the frequency of its monthly meetings.  He cited budget pressure. The meetings cost the Navy $10,000 per meeting.  The purpose of the RAB is to review, comment, and makes suggestions to the Navy and regulatory agencies regarding cleanup of toxic substances at Alameda Point, and also to serve as a vehicle for the Navy to communicate with the community.

Sampling contents of old disposal site called Site 2 on Wildlife Refuge. Cleanup plans here are the subject of controversy. (Navy photo)

Three longtime RAB members said they were open to the idea of meeting reductions.  One cited the small number of areas left for review.  Two suggested that conference calls in lieu of meeting in person would be acceptable as an alternative.  The RAB’s community co-chair Dale Smith, however, opposed any meeting reductions until work phase planning is completed on the remaining cleanup areas.  She said there is still too much going on.

The guidelines for establishing local environmental cleanup advisory groups were established in 1994.  Details on the number of members and meeting frequency were left to the local areas.  The Alameda Point RAB adopted a new set of rules on May 7, 2009, which stated that meetings would be monthly, and that schedule changes must be placed on the agenda and passed by a majority vote of RAB Community members, the Navy, City representatives, and the Regulators.  The rules were signed by the Navy, the community co-chair, and three regulators.  

No decision was made at the September meeting.  Mr. Robinson said the subject of meeting frequency would be brought up again in a few months.

As a RAB member I have had time to reflect on the issue.  My personal opinion is that it’s not a good idea to cut back on RAB meetings at this time for two reasons:  1) It will undermine communication with the community about pending and ongoing cleanup work; 2) It sends the wrong message, coming just as the Navy has decided to give Alameda the land for free.  Even if the RAB voted to cut back on meetings, the detail about the voting on a change to meeting frequency would get lost in translation.  The rumor will be that the Navy dumped a toxic mess on Alameda and wants to scale down the oversight.  This would be a PR blunder.  If anything, they need more public meetings to explain what is going on.  Most of the public still knows only two things:  Fences and radiation, even though the majority of sites are either cleaned or on track for cleaning.

The issue of federal budget cutbacks has already led to the Navy’s base cleanup department being placed back in the Naval Facilities Engineering Command that manages Naval facilities, as of October 1.  Mr. Robinson also pointed out that Department of Defense funding for cleanup may not be as robust as in the past, so some of the remaining cleanup, such as at the old disposal sites where no construction or economic development is planned, may take longer than anticipated prior to the economic downturn.

Next RAB meeting:  October 6, 2011, 6:30 PM.  950 West Mall Square (city administration building), Alameda Point.  From parking lot on West Midway Ave., enter through middle wing.

The main presentation at the October 6 meeting will be on groundwater remediation at the cleanup area called Operating Unit 5. The contaminated groundwater underlies the George P. Miller Elementary School, the Woodstock Child Development Center, United States Coast Guard (USCG) Housing at North Village and Marina Village, and adjacent Annex areas.  Cleanup started in 2008 and will continue to October 2012.

Author: richard94501

My blog is Alameda Point Environmental Report covering environmental issues from wildlife to cleanup at the former Navy base in Alameda now called Alameda Point. Articles on my blog are frequently printed in the Alameda Sun newspaper. I also host a Twitter site and a Flickr photo site. I hope you find my stories and photos of interest. Richard Bangert Alameda, California

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