The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, August 15, 2003

DOE's citizen advisers resign
Seven members of an advisory board say they are frustrated that DOE will not release records on conditions at the plant.

By Joe Walker

Seven of the 18 members of a citizens' advisory board have quit, claiming the Department of Energy is "stonewalling" information about conditions at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and rejecting board recommendations.

The seven — Merryman Kemp, Mark Donham, Ronald Lamb, Craig Rhodes, Rosa Scott, John Tillson and Greg Waldrop — issued a joint statement Thursday, saying they resigned out of frustration. They said the board costs taxpayers at least $200,000 a year, but it can't get detailed records on how contractors are spending the money.

"Too much money has been wasted on the sham cleanup at the Paducah DOE site," the statement said. "Unfortunately, we now believe we can make more of a difference off the board than on it."

DOE declined comment on specific claims made in the detailed statement. "We appreciate their service and contributions," spokesman Walter Perry said of the former board members.

Kemp, who stepped down as chairwoman, said the joint decision culminated months of waning dialogue with the department. Last year, DOE removed Paducah Site Manager Don Seaborg and replaced him with Bill Murphie, who is overseeing cleanup at Paducah and its closed sister plant in Piketon, Ohio. Seaborg, who still works for DOE, maintains a part-time office next to the advisory board office in a business complex on Memorial Drive off Blandville Road, but board members say they seldom see him.

Departed board members say they have "grave concerns" about Seaborg's unexplained removal and because the department "has distanced itself" by a decision to move most of its Paducah staff to Murphie's new office in Lexington or elsewhere. As a result, the board has become a "public-involvement hoax," their statement said.

"It's been going on for a long time, and it's gotten worse. It's just the weight of the whole thing," Kemp said in an interview. "I guess the worst thing might be DOE's stonewalling with regulators."

In April, DOE, the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement to outline work that must be completed by 2005. That ended more than a year of squabbling over DOE’s plan to accelerate cleanup by setting one final milestone of 2010 and focusing on key problem areas. The new agreement requires the three agencies to renegotiate a detailed plan by Sept. 15 for removing all hazardous waste.

Some remaining board members are as skeptical as those who quit but say they haven't given up trying to improve rapport with DOE. Member Bill Tanner, superintendent of the West McCracken Water District, said most current members share various degrees of resigning members' frustration.

"This is the third or fourth accelerated cleanup plan proposed at the site. Every three to five years, there is a new one," he said. "Then there is a change in DOE and contractor personnel and a steep learning curve. This new plan to move people to Lexington really bothers me."

The board is having "an extremely difficult time right now with the Lexington office," he said. "We've basically been shut out of everything since a year ago in March."

Tanner has worked with the department since 1998, when traces of plant contamination were found in a few residential wells. DOE later provided municipal water to about 100 homes to guard against the spread of contaminated groundwater.

In their statement, resigning members gave other concerns:

Information delays hinder their work and sometimes appear intentional to "hide problems" in proposed cleanup processes.

DOE recently "hand-picked" a new board member, bypassing board procedures.

A "conflict of interest" apparently exists because the board's administrative staff works for lead cleanup contractor Bechtel Jacobs.

DOE's actions "indicate a desire to ignore fundamental federal regulations" for cleanup and waste handling, and a willingness to violate its own guidelines "meant to promote the free flow of information" about correcting environmental problems.

Formed in 1996 with 12 members, the board was expanded to 18 in September 1997. Its next monthly meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday.