Arness: Family wishes to do what it can to 'clean up' site

Voices of the Peninsula

Much to my dismay, I awoke on Sunday morning to a news article which served to reopen an old wound in the history of my family in the Nikiski area. Under the headline referring to attempts to locate a new industrial waste site in the Nikiski area were several references to a waste site which we have the misfortune of being the "proud" owners of. I believe, in the interest of fairness, that some response is appropriate.

Approximately forty years ago, my father, who was an integral part of developing the area now known as Nikiski, contracted with an individual named Dave Brown to allow Mr. Brown to develop a septage disposal site on property which my parents owned. Unfortunately, history has shown that Mr. Brown wildly exceeded the parameters of the agreed upon waste stream -- and specifically began to accept various types of hydrocarbons and other nasty waste products from area industry. Upon disclosure of this fact to the local DEC office, the site was first curtailed, and then closed for further disposal. Mr. Brown, who had facilities such as this in Sterling as well, subsequently chose to enter bankruptcy and left the State.

Hence, my family became the owners of the shambles which was left from this enterprise. While I was not directly involved in the efforts to mitigate the site (and my father, who was involved, passed away several years ago), I do know that efforts were made to identify the materials, locate them, and deal with them as appropriate. I know this was a frustrating and expensive undertaking, and that any sort of "closure" to the problem was not truly available to us.

Fast forward thirty years, and now it's 2012. The area is apparently stable, the vegetation has returned in full, and the surroundings are returning to their natural state. My brother had contacted DEC in 2006 to discuss what would be required to get a "clean bill of health" on the property. Unfortunately, he contracted cancer and, during his 2 year struggle with it, the conversation just dropped. Now there is an application for an adjacent property to be licensed for the acceptance of industrial wastes, and the conversation regarding our property once again takes center stage.

My only concern here is to reassure the community at large that the property referred to is not an active disposal site, that we are sorry it is there and contains whatever level of waste products that it does, and wish to do what we can to "clean up" the problem. As you may imagine, any mitigation of such a site can be far more expensive than mere mortals can accommodate, thus our ability to respond is limited. However, we are available and willing to work with DEC or whoever else to find a reasonable conclusion.

For what it's worth, I must say that I am opposed to the proposed siting of the new facility. In point of fact, I am somewhat offended that the conversation is even being held. It is true that we live in an area which has no zoning, and therefore the ability of any landowner to "control" their neighbor is limited. However, I think we should all live by the rule of trying to reduce our impact on those around us. We are, by and large, proud and happy to have the new "players" in the oil industry in our community, and we all wish them well. However, an effort to place their wastes adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and within several  hundred feet of our high school seems to me to be an indication of bad faith which I really don't believe those companies mean to make?

As all good neighbors should, I would encourage these folks to come visit with us, talk about their disposal problems, and then try and find a solution which works for all. This approach of quietly trying to get a site approved is truly not a way to ingratiate yourselves into any community.

Joe Arness lives in Nikiski.

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