REEF gets new EPA coordinator
by Emily Adams
New federal on-scene coordinator Jason Booth examines the consistency of an oily mixture that is being treated for disposal at the REEF facility. Booth, a five-year EPA veteran, took over coordinator duties last week.
SYLACAUGA – A new federal on-scene coordinator has taken the reigns of ongoing cleanup efforts at the former REEF waste treatment facility.

Jason Booth, a five-year veteran of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, took over the position about a week ago after a planned rotation of previous coordinator David Andrews from removal to emergency response duties.

“It was a scheduled change, but there was a gray area as to when it would happen,” Andrews said Monday. “Management wanted to make sure it was a seamless transition to a new OSC and wanted there to be plenty of overlap.”

Andrews, who will now be working out of the Region 4 Atlanta office, said employees rotate duties about every two years, and site coordinators are largely interchangeable.

“Jason has a style that’s probably different than mine, but we’re definitely not going to miss a beat as far as our proposed plan,” Andrews said. “The direction of the ship has already been set, and he is just following through. Management wasn’t going to do anything that would jeopardize our goals.”

Andrews, who set an early goal to have the site cleared within 90 days, said he feels he accomplished his portion of the responsibilities during his four months at the site.

“This project is made up of several phases,” he said. “The emergency response phase was handled by Tim Neal. My phase was Phase I, which was get the odor controlled and do an assessment of what we’ve got our hands on. The second phase will be to treat and discharge the water, so it was sort of a phased approach of how we dealt with this.”

Booth, who has served a backup coordinator since EPA’s initial response at REEF, said he is well-acquainted with the actions taken at the site so far, and the agency is progressing with plans to treat the remaining waste onsite and discharge it into Shirtee Creek. EPA is contracting with Birmingham-based Rain For Rent to provide a $240,000 treatment system, which may start arriving at the Twin Street facility as early as Wednesday. An estimated 14 to 17 million gallons of untreated wastewater remain at the site.

Once the equipment arrives, Booth said they will run tests to get the system working at the optimum level. The goal is to begin discharging into the creek March 1. The discharge will be closely monitored by EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

“We have set up a sampling plan with ADEM to sample five locations on Shirtee Creek to make sure we are continually meeting water quality standards,” Booth said. “One location is upstream of the facility and the other four are downstream, for obvious reasons.”

Various testing will be done before discharge begins to determine which of three possible discharge volumes will be suitable. According to ADEM standards, Booth said they will either release 144,000, 275,000 or 400,000 gallons per day. Depending on the rate, the water could be treated in its entirety as early as April or as late as June.

In the meantime, however, Booth said they are working to treat and empty the various tanks, drums and other containers at the facility and clean up rotting oil found in one of the three basins. EPA is currently stabilizing the oil by mixing it with sawdust and dried soil, and it will hopefully be sent to a landfill within a few weeks, Booth said.

Citizens can expect another EPA community meeting sometime next month once the treatment system is up and running.

“Hopefully the oily sludge will be gone and we will have treated a couple million gallons of water,” Booth said. “At that time, we can alleviate any worries and mark a good milestone to reassure people we are moving along and making progress on the site.”

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