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Army Corps to tackle Parks nuke cleanup with new leaders

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, 12:07 a.m.

The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to award a new contract for the cleanup of the nuclear waste dump along Route 66 in Parks by October.

The corps will hold a meeting Tuesday in Parks to introduce the new commander of its Pittsburgh District, Col. Bernard Lindstrom, who will officially take command on Jan. 11, according to Dan Jones, corps spokesman.

Among other duties, Lindstrom and the corps' new project manager, Mike Helbling of Murrysville, will lead the cleanup of the nuclear waste dump, owned by BWX Technologies (also known as Babcock & Wilcox), which is expected to take about a decade and cost up to $500 million.

The waste dump along Route 66, formally known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, received radioactive and chemical waste from about 1960 to the early 1970s from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. in Apollo and Parks, and its successor, the Atlantic Richfield Co.

Those companies produced nuclear fuel for submarines and a range of nuclear products for the federal government and private industry.

Cleanup operations halted shortly after they began at the 44-acre site in fall 2011 when a contractor allegedly mishandled some nuclear waste and workers unearthed unexpected quantities of “complex” nuclear materials. Given the greater complexity of the cleanup and soaring cost estimates, corps headquarters in Washington reconsidered its lead position in the cleanup earlier this year.

After public outcry to keep the corps on the project and closed-door meetings in Washington, the corps announced it would continue to lead the project but would work closely with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy.

Although the project was stopped, Col. Butch Graham, current commander of the Pittsburgh District, said, “We're in a good spot.”

“I don't have any concerns with funding or other concerns that jump out,” Graham said. “I think the contractors we need exist out there, and we've got a process to evaluate and pick the best one.”

Although excavation of radioactive and chemical contaminants halted shortly after it began, Graham noted, “We got 20 percent of that material safely out of the community, and that is huge.

“And we learned an awful lot about what is buried there,” he said. “We are committed to improving our plan and applying that (experience) to the next contract and moving forward.”

As part of the normal rotation of commanders, Graham will soon leave the Pittsburgh District for a yearlong tour in Afghanistan.

Tuesday's meeting was set up for Graham to talk with residents and to introduce Lindstrom and Helbling.

Parks Township Supervisor Bud Shannon said he is looking forward to meeting the new colonel.

“We still encourage the corps to continue with the cleanup,” Shannon said. “As long as they have the health and safety of the residents at the top of the list, we're happy with that.”

Patty Ameno, an environmental activist from Leechburg, said that she, too, looks forward to meeting the corps' new leadership for the cleanup project.

“I hope to work with them on future issues, including transparency of information on the cleanup, expanded monitoring of residential and business areas, potential drainage of contaminants to the Kiski River and expanding on-site testing,” she said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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