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Marion cleanup expenses estimated

June 11, 1999

MARION, O. - Federal officials finally came through last night with their first ballpark estimates of what it will take to clean up a 78-acre school campus near here that was once used to dump tons of military waste.

The River Valley middle school/high school complex, the focus of a major leukemia investigation for almost two years, needs $2 million to $20 million of work, depending on the type of cleanup selected.

The estimates were presented by officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district office in Kentucky at a special meeting of the Marion Restoration Advisory Board, a panel of residents and public officials organized to exchange information about the project.

The campus, on State Rts. 309 and 98, is 100 miles southeast of Toledo. It opened in 1962, after the newly formed consolidated school district bought it from the Army.

While corps officials were making their presentation, River Valley Superintendent Tom Shade distributed a letter that indicated the school board has set a new course to resolve the matter.

Until now, the board has been content to be a silent observer and wait for state and federal officials to make their moves, although expressing concerns from time to time about how the investigation has landlocked plans for expansion.

The letter, which Mr. Shade described as the board's strongest worded statement to date, calls upon the federal government to relocate the middle school/high school complex at a cost of $25 million, rather than trying to clean up the existing site.

The board said its environmental consultants have pegged cleanup costs as high as $50 million to $60 million, if contaminated soil is excavated and hauled away.

Even if a much less expensive option is pursued, such as keeping the soil in place and treating it at a cost of $4 million, the district will have to cope with lingering psychological effects, Mr. Shade said.

It also will face the inconvenience of scheduling work on weekends and during vacations, to minimize the threat of exposure to students, he said.

The letter said the district expects to have unrestricted use of its property again, because no deed restrictions were on the land when it was bought. "Had the disposal activity or contamination been disclosed by the government before the land was purchased, the River Valley board would never have purchased it," the letter said.

Kevin Jasper, corps spokesman, said his agency is not authorized to pay for a new school complex.

He said a decision on the type of cleanup remedy will not be made until at least next spring and possibly not until 2003.

Until then, more sampling will be done, he said.

Mr. Shade said the timetable is not acceptable, given the district's need to expand and modernize its buildings.

Economics may end up being a more convincing argument than environmental issues, he said.

"It's a cost-effective argument. It just makes economic sense," Mr. Shade said.

He said he would have difficulty convincing voters to pass a bond issue for expanding or renovating the existing complex unless a full cleanup is authorized.

"The community is growing weary," Mr. Shade said. "We need to move forward."

He said school officials plan to talk more aggressively with state and federal officials about their funding request. The district retained a legal firm months ago to help with negotiations.

The school complex once was part of the sprawling Marion Engineering Depot, the government's largest military warehouse of its kind during World War II.

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