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EPA begins soil removal in Barber’s Orchard

Six years after the Environmental Protection Agency said it would cart away the arsenic-tainted topsoil from Haywood County’s Barber’s Orchard subdivision, the trucks are set to begin hauling out the contaminated earth by this December.

The site, once an apple orchard, is now a residential neighborhood and an EPA-designated Superfund site. It was the scene of an emergency clean-up effort in the late 1990s when it was discovered that hazardous pesticides pumped through the orchard’s underground irrigation network had, over time, seeped through rusty, unstable pipes and into soil and groundwater.

The EPA is now mobilizing to clear up contamination that’s still lingering in much of the soil in the subdivision, but the groundwater cleanup won’t be part of the effort.

“We are removing the top foot of soil from the areas that are contaminated,” said Jon Bornholm, the EPA Project Manager that’s in charge of the cleanup. “That encompasses about 80 acres.”

The quandary surrounding where to put the polluted soil, however, remains unresolved. When the EPA handed down its decision in 2004, saying that the dirty dirt must go, the issue of exactly where it must go to became a bone of contention in the county.

The suggestion to dump it into the county’s White Oak landfill drew ire from then-county manager Jack Horton, who contended that taking on the bad soil would be too costly and use too much room in the small landfill.

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“There’s so much dirt that has to be taken out of Barber’s Orchard, that it would completely fill up our existing cell. What would we do with our garbage then?” he said.

At the time, some Barber’s Orchard residents favored the plan because it was predicted to cut the cleanup time — which was projected to be around 10 years — nearly in half, and many property owners were less-than-pleased with the prospect of sitting on virtually useless property for a decade.

But now, according to Bornholm, the project is slated for completion in September 2011, whether or not the waste is dumped in or out of the county.

“All of it is to be disposed of offsite and those offsite options are still being evaluated,” said Bornholm. “We’re looking at some of the local landfills, and if we can’t find a nearby landfill, then our fallback position is to take it to the Republic landfill in South Carolina.”

Republic, a sanitation company that has placed a bid to take over operations at Haywood County’s White Oak landfill, operates a mega-landfill in Lee County, S.C., that accepts waste from around the nation.

Bornholm said once the operation ramps up in earnest, workers will be at the site 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday and at least half a day each Saturday until the job is complete. The EPA estimates around 127,374 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be trucked away.

While most sites will only have the top foot skimmed off, the 16 sites that showed contamination below the one-foot mark will have two feet of soil excavated.

Altogether, the former orchard site encompasses 438 acres in Waynesville that was sliced up and sold piecemeal after the orchard went bankrupt in 1988.

The groundwater contamination that was a result of the same leaky pipes, Bornholm said, was part of a separate EPA case and no verdict has yet come down on what should be done to remedy the issue. A decision is expected by September of next year.

Preliminary work is currently underway to prepare the site for the 100 to 120 trucks that will be rolling through the facility daily during the cleanup.

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