June 24, 2002
RE: Testimony in Support of Continued Independent Ombudsman Superfund Investigation in North Idaho.
Submitted to: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Submitted by: L. Rogers and Antonia M. Hardy
31169 S. Benewah Road
Harrison, Idaho 83833
Phone/fax: (208) 689-3731
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee:
It is imperative that the National EPA Ombudsman Office remain independent and free from the bureaucracy and internal politics within any agency that can hamper, manipulate, stall, or circumvent vital investigations. The Independent National Ombudsman functions to insure protection of our shared environment, of ecological and human health. Ombudsman independence is a basic component of the checks and balances that validate our democratic system, and continued independence certainly is basic for insurance that public voice and options will be heard and considered. We know from direct experience (with Region 10 EPA in the Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund) that continued Ombudsman independence is absolutely essential. In addition, we assert that Robert Martin, in particular, must be allowed to finish the open investigations. Without his support and help, our grass-roots citizen group’s voices within the Basin Superfund would likely never even have begun to be heard.
Our particular issues center around a small but very integral sliver of land within the Coeur d’Alene Basin, the now-abandoned 72-mile Union Pacific Railroad spur line between Mullan and Plummer. This abandoned line, which runs through the entire guts of the 1500 square mile Basin, was just beginning to be investigated by Ombudsman Martin when the changes within EPA happened. We believe that Martin’s work with our group must continue, especially since the 72-mile right-of-way, highly contaminated by mine and railroad waste, is being converted into a PRECEDENT SETTING CERCLA/SUPERFUND RESPONSE recreational trail that will contain over 900 warning signs. Our group has submitted scientific data to Ombudsman Martin, and we compiled 27 pages of interrogatories which we submitted to him for investigation into Region 10 and the Bunker Hill Superfund. We believe that our rights as citizen/stakeholders were circumvented, ignored, abused, and our faith in EPA as the agency mandated to protect our human and environmental health and welfare has been seriously compromised. We believe that only with Ombudsman Independence can our truth be told.
We hold very dear our rights to have voice within our government. We take very seriously our duties as citizens to exercise our voices. We have spent years documenting what we believe are serious problems within the Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund: inadequate testing, inaccurate descriptions within EPA documents, double-speak, even fatal-flaw information that, we believe, should be considered seriously before any EPA ROD (Record of Decision) is released this July. Yet, our voices continue to be ignored. In fact, the EPA-appointed contact person, assigned to answer citizen questions and concerns, has not answered our urgent and legitimate citizen/stakeholder questions in over 3 months. In fact, since the inception of this precedent trail plan which, we assert, hides tons of improperly characterized contamination, our voices have been systematically ignored and excluded from processes affecting directly our lives, our environment, our land. Without an Independent Ombudsman, we do not see how EPA can be held accountable to adhere to its own CERCLA/SARA mandated Public Policy dictates.
We support the Idaho Delegation’s legislation to keep the Ombudsman independent. At the same time, we would urge that Ombudsman Martin be the one to continue his open investigations, including Union Pacific Railroad. To do otherwise would, we believe, be a misuse of the millions of tax dollars as well as the millions of hours of work—ours included—already invested into the Basin Superfund. Martin knows the problems, and he must be allowed to finish what he has begun.
In closing, during these times of change, when more and more immoral and questionably legal actions and schemes come to light, we think it is imperative to insure public voice, public scrutiny, public accountability. And we do not mean a semblance of public inclusion, but we mean genuine voice. After all, it is WE, The People, who, ultimately, are the ones affected directly by those decisions made in Washington D.C, and whose lives and well-being are entrusted to EPA. And so, as representatives of “The People”, we urge you to reinstate immediately the Independent Ombudsman, and give Robert Martin the authority to complete his investigations.
Thank you for the opportunity to address your committee.
L. Rogers and Antonia M. Hardy