A Superfund cleanup

A track hoe scoops soil from Site No. 9, the final contamination site at the Yard's east end, concluding an 11-year cleanup of contaminated sediments resulting from past business practices on the Yard's historic property. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A track hoe scoops soil from Site No. 9, the final contamination site at the Yard’s east end, concluding an 11-year cleanup of contaminated sediments resulting from past business practices on the Yard’s historic property. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Dottie Mitchell.

The mindset for environmental protection was far different in the past century than it is today. During World War II, there were more than 3,000 tradesmen working at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, around-the-clock, rolling off new ships from the assembly lines and keeping existing boats functioning so they could carry Coast Guard crews to war. Environmental stewardship was oftentimes overlooked, and the Yard’s property suffered in certain locations.

More than 10 years ago, the Yard started the rigorous process of remediating the land and last month officially began the administrative process for removal of the Yard from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List, also known as the Superfund Program, ensuring its acreage would be environmentally healthy and sound for future generations.

Rear Adm. Ronald Rábago, assistant commandant for engineering and logistics, and Shawn Garvin, Environmental Protection Agency mid-Atlantic regional administrator, sign documents completing the remediation of the final contamination site. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Rear Adm. Ronald Rábago, assistant commandant for engineering and logistics, and Shawn Garvin, Environmental Protection Agency mid-Atlantic regional administrator, sign documents completing the remediation of the final contamination site. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The process for remediation began in 2002 when the Yard received funding to begin remediation, costing approximately $17 million over 11 years. The Yard targeted nine sites of contamination resulting from past, not current-day, business practices; set a course of action and began excavation of contaminated materials ranging from semi-volatile organic compounds, to metals, polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins.

In all, 25,000 tons of contaminated soil and sediment were excavated, treated on site and shipped to a non-hazardous waste landfill. In addition, as a commitment to environmental stewardship, the Yard chose to clean up the grounds using stringent residential cleanup standards rather than more common industrial standards.

“Eleven years ago, the Yard was placed on the [National Priorities List] to address contamination from former practices,” said Capt. Richard Murphy, the Yard’s commanding officer from May 2010 to June 2013. “Today, the Yard is a leader in the field of environmental management, and we continue to partner with the EPA and the [Maryland Department of the Environment] to ensure a healthy environment for the Yard and our nearby neighbors as well as to protect the vital ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Not only was the Yard’s Superfund cleanup an engineering challenge, but the shipyard faced unique communications challenges to assure its employees and nearby neighbors that the Yard was committed to “greening” its property.

From 2001 – when the shipyard was proposed then finalized a year later as a Superfund site – through May 2013, the Yard held periodic meetings for media and community attendees; conducted tours of the shipyard; published quarterly bulletins and established reading depositories at two local libraries to support open communications. The community listened.

When asked by a Baltimore Sun reporter following last month’s ceremony about their reaction of hearing the Yard cleanup was completed, a local resident responded, “The Coast Guard has been a good neighbor. I trust them.”

The Yard was the Coast Guard’s only Superfund site, and is now remediated thanks to the dedicated men and women at the Yard who ensured the site was in keeping with the Coast Guard’s role in safeguarding our nation’s natural resources.

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