July 25, 2001
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Army to work with group looking into Marion contamination
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
Dispatch Staff Reporter

MARION, Ohio -- A skirmish between the Army and members of a citizens group that studies contaminated grounds in and around a former military depot has ended peacefully.

The battleground had been a stretch of woods and fields along the southern edge of the depot.

The U.S. Army Reserve closed the 127-acre training site in November 1998 after high levels of toxic contamination were found on the property.

The military, which has recently completed a preliminary investigation of the site, had balked at joining the Restoration Advisory Board, a citizens group reviewing contamination issues in the area.

Group members, backed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, say the Army has not provided enough information about the toxic chemicals that polluted the site.

"The whole thing just keeps smelling more and more of somebody having information they don't want us to find,'' said Don Millard, co-chairman of the Restoration Advisory Board.

"As the investigation progresses without our input . . . it's time to force the Army Reserve into joining our RAB or thumbing their nose at us.''

Yesterday, the Army said it will join the board.

"We're hoping it (joining the RAB) will improve communication,'' said Capt. Michael Stella, spokesman for the Army Reserve. "We have been attending the RAB meetings since late 1998 and have been giving them updates of our investigation.''

About 800 students attend River Valley's high school and middle school a few hundred yards from the site.

An investigation that uncovered significant toxic contamination on parts of the 78-acre school campus began in 1997 after concerns were raised about a high number of leukemia cases among high-school graduates.

As a result, most contaminated areas on the campus are restricted, and school and government officials have determined it is safe for students to remain until new facilities are built. No link has been found between the cancer cases and the contamination.

But the Restoration Advisory Board says it wants to know whether any contamination on the Army training site, especially airborne, could affect the schools.

The Army site and school campus are located on the grounds of the 640-acre former Marion Engineering Depot, where chemical waste was dumped for years.

Both the citizens group and the Ohio EPA recently sent letters to Army officials requesting that the Army Reserve join the advisory board, which plans to discuss the issue Thursday night during its regular meeting.

The Army has sent representatives to past meetings, which are held every other month in Marion.

"I ask that you seriously consider using the existing Marion RAB as a mechanism to allow (community) stakeholders to have a voice in future investigations'' of the reserve site, Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones wrote in the letter he sent the Army.

Last month, the Army Reserve 88th Regional Support Command in Fort Snelling, Minn., sent an 800-page draft report of its preliminary investigation to the Ohio EPA.

Jeff Steers, assistant chief of the EPA's Bowling Green office and a member of the advisory board, said the Army's report indicates no significant contamination beyond a toxic waste area found in 1998 where chromium and lead had leaked into the ground. That area was cleaned up.

Still, he said the agency is concerned "about how information is being released or not being released in relation to the (Army) Reserve portion of the investigation.

"We want the public to be part of the process.''

The Army said it plans to update group members on Thursday.

River Valley, a 1,700-student district east of Marion, plans to use a combination of state, federal and local money to build a new high school and middle school on a different site by August 2003. The current school campus will then be closed and cleaned up.

"We've still got the kids at the schools for two years,'' Millard said. "We, as a community, have a right to know what's there'' on the Army training site.


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