The meeting in Nikiski Monday night brought many new voices to a much-needed dialogue between community leaders, elected officials, and residents of what has become a very confusing and emotional issue regarding toxic waste dumping and toxic waste sites in and around this small community.
Present at the meeting were Borough Mayor, Mike Navarre and Representative Mike Chenault in addition to dozens of my neighbors.
At issue is the growing suspicion that Nikiski’s ground water has been poisoned by hazardous chemicals buried here. Simply put, the residents want to know of the extent of the danger and if proven, where the danger presently exists.
What I did see was the political posturing of our representatives to take some sort of action for their constituents. Both the Borough Mayor and Mike Chenault know that they are “under the gun” to take the lead to reassure the community that toxic waste levels in our drinking water are well within EPA hazard limits. The choices seem to be: Do nothing and avoid testing the ground water and face the voters, or spend grant money (already allocated to the community) to test the waters for dissolved dangerous chemicals. We simply want to know.
It is already known that hazardous chemicals have been found in and around the area. According to Steve Chamberlain, the single most knowledgeable resident (not affiliated or connected to any corporation or “special interest group”), even the wells near the high school are contaminated. This alone ought to be of concern.
With this issue clearly on the mind of the people, it is no wonder that more than three times the regular number of attendees showed up for the Community Council meeting.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Chamberlain brought strong charges of cover-up and political foot-dragging and declared that he would work to unseat the Mayor, accusing him of evading the problem. All in attendance seemed to expect the emotional outburst from Steve who abruptly left the meeting, but no one challenged Mr. Chamberlain’s allegations that political maneuvering was at work. Indeed, in spite of Mike Chenault’s assertion that he does not believe a conspiracy is afoot, it did seem that many of us were not convinced. I personally commend Steve Chamberlain for his unwavering efforts to draw attention to a threat that shadows all of us.
After the meeting, I took away the feeling that both Mike Navarre and Mike Chenault are trying get out in front of this. Rep. Chenault said “we cannot go after those who polluted ... many of them are dead. I will not ‘re-hang’ those who were guilty.” The residents, myself included, understood this. None us felt that laying blame was useful, but what we all want to know is what is the quality of the water that we use. This seemed to be the primary question on the minds of all Nikiski residents.
What will happen? I cannot tell. I can say that our political representatives feel the growing pressure to tell us, the residents of Nikiski, the truth and knowing the truth, to act upon it in whatever way we can.
I want to thank everyone who attended the meeting. I trust that we (and many others) will attend next month’s meeting when representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) come to what was predicted to be a kind of civil inquisition. Hope you all can attend. It ought to be very interesting.