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Northeast Federal Facilities Cleanup Workshop
July 18, 19, and 20, 1997
Amherst, Massachusetts


(Reprinted from ISIS's December 1997 "After the Fact" newsletter.)

By Jeff Green

It's 2:00 PM on Thursday, July 17, 1997. The ISIS Northeast Federal Facilities Cleanup Workshop (NFFCW) staff completes the last of the important pre-departure details before we concede that we've done all the planning we possibly can, close the ISIS office, and relocate to workshop location. With Career/Pro's help, we've spent much of the week on the phone building interest and support with government and Defense Department (DoD) offices.

Having done as much as we can and with a strong agenda locked in, we load a small pickup truck with the supplies, equipment, and miscellaneous items that will make up the 3 day field office of ISIS at Amherst. We bring boxes of printed materials, a computer loaded with the database and files, the printer, newsprint, blank tape, video cameras, an answering machine, two tape recorders, and, of course, one brand-new roll of duct tape.

We're hot and miserable, and kicking ourselves for our seemingly questionable decision to host an event any time between May and August. It's a roaster of a day, of the nastiest kind of New England weather - mid 90's, in both temperature and humidity. And although we've moved all sessions to Converse Hall, the coolest building on campus, we're less than excited at the prospect of welcoming overnight guests to anything but the campus pool in this stifling weather. So we hope that the weather forecast is on the mark, and this several-day heat wave will now pass after one rainy night. We put the forwarding number on voice-mail, lock the ISIS office, and drive off to the site of the workshop.

Though dozens of concerned citizens have registered to attend, we would still like to broaden government participation in the event. To our surprise, it has been more difficult to consistently win the interest and commitment of both regulatory and cleanup-ended government officials. In many cases, people feel overworked and understaffed, and one state actually pleads poverty, it's the first year in several that they've been able to avoid layoffs.

The NFFCW had its very beginnings in 1995 with a series of conversations and email exchanges with CareerPro's Lenny Siegel and Aimee Houghton. At that time, CareerPro had raised funds to do its second major workshop on military cleanup advisory boards, and was planning to expand the project to a national scale based on regional collaborations. As ISIS's military cleanup project coordinator, I attended Getting On Board II to observe CareerPro's workshop, and to discuss collaboration on a northeast event. Duly impressed with the method, tone, and quality of the workshop series, we agreed to host a northeast event as soon as the funds could be raised.

At the end of 1996, USEPA awarded a grant for a five-workshop series on public involvement in federal facilities cleanup, in collaboration with ISIS and several other organizations. CareerPro then turned over responsibility for a northeast event to ISIS. In January 1997, ISIS hit the ground running to plan and organize the NFFCW, a three-day event designed to strengthen community oversight and input in the cleanup of military bases. We set out to bring people who live with the effects of pollution at military bases throughout the northeast together to share perspectives and experience and educate each other about issues including community organizing, the ethics of risk assessment, environmental justice and the local workforce, military cleanup processes, and environmental policy.

The ISIS event would include a new addition to the programming of the previous events, a pre-workshop Citizen Caucus designed as an opportunity for interested community members to meet, compare notes, and reach "the same page" about their expectations and goals for the broader workshop. This special event integrates the ideas and experience of other groups working on the cleanup issue, including ArcEcology and the Military Toxics Project, and is sponsored by grants from Common Counsel Foundation, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Blue Mountain Center, and the contributions of several individual donors.

Back to our story: At Mayo Smith House we set up the ISIS temporary office and prepare for early guests, and people begin to arrive just as the predicted rainstorm hits. As we hoped, the storm front also brings cool weather. The staff and volunteers order pizza and spend the evening assembling packets and working on last-minute adjustments to our strategy and presentations. For the most part, we work on restructuring the Citizen Caucus to adjust for an unanticipated hitch - several people from military and government offices have requested to attend the citizen-focused event. Rather than asking them to participate only as observers, we decide instead to do a split session by roles in cleanup.



On Friday morning the Citizen Caucus begins with a discussion of the goals and reasons for attending. Some people want to learn about practical aspects of cleanup like legislation, policy, contracting; some want to network and develop strategies to apply in their communities; and some have come to compare notes with other boards.

Susan Falkoff of Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety

After lunch, we split into two groups so that participants will meet separately according to their role in the cleanup. With the assistance of a Westover Air Base engineer, those who are employed in cleanup work or regulatory oversight attend a historical tour of a former Strategic Air Command bunker that is carved into the side of a nearby mountain, a haunting Cold War legacy in our own community.

Those who simply reside in affected neighborhoods stay to discuss the challenges they have encountered. People talk of needing to better define RABs in the absence of guidance; of getting the government and advisory boards to listen to and respect each other; of "foot-dragging" by various bureaucratic players; and of vulnerability of advisory boards to the varying level of commitment of the military's cleanup project managers. The session is followed by a panel discussion on advocacy work, networking, and handling technical information.

The two groups reconvene for a session on "What Works" - responses include working closely with an independent technical consultant, raising awareness through media coverage, and careful attention to meeting dynamics and format. The afternoon also includes a presentation by CareerPro's Aimee Houghton and Colorado Senior Assistant Attorney General Vicky Peters, on a very recent success in citizen networking that has resulted in powerful input on the Defense Reform Act of 1997. The caucus concludes in a brainstorming session on possible outcomes and follow-up. The participants recommend careful mapping of various options throughout each site's cleanup process to guide citizen oversight, monitoring ongoing military activity to prevent future pollution, reaching out to colleges and universities for support, annual conferences for community members to help building citizen networks.

Later that night, at the opening reception, Hampshire College president Greg Prince welcomes Congressman John Olver, who officially opens the conference with observations on citizen involvement in government. Congressman Olver's office has been an enormous help to concerned citizens, enabling them to make significant progress on several aspects of a local military pollution problem.


The first day of the workshop starts with a brief introduction by Aimee Houghton, who speaks about CareerPro's work, the history of its workshop series, and about the process by which Site-Specific Advisory Boards became a part of the military's cleanup process. Aimee encourages participants to take the "long-view" of their work by broadening their awareness to the national scale as they work on their local bases. Aimee leads the group into around-the-room introductions.

Tad McCall, the Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environmental Safety and Occupational Health, then gives a talk about Cleanup Initiatives and Progress in the Air Force. Tad focuses on the importance of citizen input in the cleanup process, to help the services achieve better solutions, and describes internal shifts in the Air Force toward an integration of pollution prevention and environmental safety and health into its daily operations. When asked for suggestions on difficult issues such as how to deal with military cover-ups and tight control over environmental studies, Tad stresses the importance citizen persistence, and of Congressional support, and urges participants to reach out to their representatives.

Cape Cod Times reporter Anne Brennan interviews Lenny Siegel

The next session is a panel discussion on the Cape Cod's Otis Air National Guard Base/Massachusetts Military Reservation, one of the country's most complicated and difficult military pollution cases. This site has very possibly the largest and most publicly active community participation program in the military's. Otis is also the site of a precedent-setting cease-fire order, which was imposed by EPA to protect the sensitive underground water supply. The panel represents many of the diverse perspectives involved in the cleanup, and includes Andrea Papadopoulas of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP), Virginia Valiela of the Town of Falmouth, Sue Walker of the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod, Vanessa Musgrave from the base's cleanup program, and Jim Murphy of EPA Region 1.

The Otis panel is followed by a discussion of legislation, regulatory policy, and oversight by Paula Fitzsimmons of EPA Region 1, Anne Malewicz of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Vicky Peters, and Richard Pease of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. The presenters emphasize aspects of state and federal laws and policies which integrate stakeholder involvement, evolution of these laws and policies, and needs for the future.

Dr. Ted Schettler, of Physicians for Social Responsibility

Next, Haywood Turrentine of the Laborers District Council Education and Training Foundation, and National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (NEJAC) member speaks about environmental justice for the local work force at closing bases. He presents the history and purpose of NEJAC, an advisor to environmental regulators, and stresses the need for ongoing integration of environmental justice issues into cleanup processes. Haywood proposes an innovative training and certification program in cleanup methods and technology for the local workforce that is displaced by military downsizing. Future contracting should also prioritize employment of local workers in cleaning up the sites in their communities.

The day concludes with breakout discussions on active bases, where ongoing environmental impacts and pollution prevention are important; on closing bases, where land transfer, reuse, and economic recovery are major issues; and on mixed cases, where changing mission, restructuring, and downsizing significantly affect cleanup decisions.


On Sunday morning, we begin with a talk by Career/Pro's director, Lenny Siegel, on community participation in the cleanup process, and principles of partnership. Lenny's talk touches on five key strategies to successful community involvement: understanding the process, learning to set priorities, offering advice, developing credibility, and being prepared to go public.

Susan Falkoff of Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety then presents a case study of how her organization started the first Restoration Advisory Board at the Watertown Arsenal. Susan highlights the long history of her community's effort, and how they overcame some of the impediments they encountered in achieving strong input to the cleanup. Susan's talk stimulates excellent questions and discussion on citizen participation.

The next presenter is Dr. Ted Schettler, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, who analyses the use of human health and ecological risk assessments in cleanup decision-making. Ted points out that risk assessment has ethical biases, lending itself easily to cost-benefit or risk benefit analysis, but failing to incorporate many of the needs of at-risk people and the environment. Ted also points out that because objective assessment cannot be made using this decision-making tool, the at-risk community must be closely involved in all phases of the process to assure that their needs are met.

Col. Postelwaite

Col. Craig Postelwaite, of the Air Force Office of Environmental Safety and Occupational Health, presents an Enhanced Site-Specific Risk Assessment method. According to Col. Postelwaite, the method will lead to more efficient cleanup work while protecting health and the environment. This will be accomplished by working more closely with potentially affected people, and by lowering standards based on realistic future land-use determinations.

Lenny Siegel leads the last group session, which is on budgeting, funding and priority setting. Lenny gives a brief overview of cleanup-related budgeting processes, from congressional appropriation on down through each military service's chain of command, to local level.

The group then breaks into several roundtable discussions on a range of topics, led by Bob Schaeffer of the Military Production Network, Aimee Houghton, Ted Henry of the University of Maryland Program in Toxicology, Susan Steenstrup of the MADEP, and by Robert Rabin Siegal of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Break-out session at the NFFCW


In all, over 70 people participated in the 3-day of the Caucus and Workshop, including 34 concerned community members, 2 environmental consultants, 15 officials from local, state, and federal government, and 14 military cleanup personnel. In writing this article, I asked Aimee, CareerPro's index workshop organizer, what stood out in her memory of the NFFCW event. She said she was most impressed by the level of camaraderie among the participants and the retreat-like spirit of the event; people rolled up their sleeves and got the job done with an across-the-board clarity about the goals and purpose, and a great willingness to work together.

It was great to see that all the post-workshop evaluations were highly positive. One environmental regulatory official said it was the best conference on citizen participation he had ever attended. Another, initially skeptical, citizen said she had been dubious about the workshop -- was prepared to leave and return home. But the Citizen Caucus helped her see where ISIS "was at," and she ended up staying all three days -- and "Learned a lot, too!"


NFFCW 1997 Workshop Agenda

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