SCC lead cleanup cost reaches $500,000

Jackson County will spend an additional $254,000 to clean up lead contamination and plan for sound abatement at the Southwestern Community College shooting range following a unanimous vote from county commissioners Feb. 19. 

The expenditure will bring the total cost of cleaning up an estimated 60 tons of lead bullets and associated lead contamination at the range to $500,000 since the issue was first addressed in 2014. 

While commissioners voted unanimously to approve the funding, it wasn’t without some consternation at the mounting costs of cleanup — and at the fact that Jackson County must bear the cost alone. Law enforcement agencies throughout the region use the range for training and certification purposes, but state law prohibits SCC from charging first responders in North Carolina to use it. 

“We’re providing a service. These other counties aren’t having to pay any of it, are they? And they’re using ours,” said Commissioner Boyce Deitz during a Feb. 13 work session. 

Deitz acknowledged that commissioners’ hands were tied — the cleanup measures are mandated by the state, which also prohibits SCC from charging for use — but made it clear he felt the situation was unfair to Jackson County. 

After SCC realized that the accumulation of 30 years of lead bullets could be problematic, it began working with the state and environmental consulting firm ECS Carolinas to create a treatment plan. The soil was tested, and more than 350 tons of contaminated soil was removed, treated and sent to a landfill. Monitoring wells were installed on the property with the plan of later capping the site and installing best management practices to prevent more lead from migrating off the range. 

After excavating the soil, testing showed that the exposed dirt had lead levels that were less than those in the excavated soil, but still elevated. However, the monitoring wells did not detect any lead levels above state standards in the groundwater. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality decided that SCC should excavate, treat and remove yet another round of soil — about 300 tons — before capping the site. DEQ has already approved a work plan from ECS. 

SCC will simultaneously engage the firm Amec Foster Wheeler to design best management practices to prevent lead contamination going forward. Amec Foster Wheeler will also complete recommendations for sound mitigation at the range — commissioners have been receiving complaints from area residents fed up with the constant shooting and want to look into options for reducing the noise level. 

The county will pay ECS $40,000 for project management, testing and consulting; Amec Foster Wheeler $55,000; and expects to pay about $160,000 for soil mitigation, though that job will have to go through a bidding process. 

“We feel we can do all of this within this next two or three months to be able to bring some options to you (regarding sound abatement) for next year’s budget,” said SCC President Don Tomas during the Feb. 19 commissioner meeting. 

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