FERMCO defends work, blasts Enquirer


BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The company hired to manage the cleanup at Fernald ran a full-page advertisement in the Hamilton Journal-News on Sunday denying Enquirer reports that it has been involved in financial wrongdoing and is jeopardizing worker safety.

Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Corp. (FERMCO) withdrew the same ad from The Enquirer Sunday after the newspaper asked the company to change its wording.

In the Journal-News ad, FERMCO ran a note across the top that read ''THE AD THE ENQUIRER REFUSED TO RUN.'' A line in the ad also read: ''Allegations raised by the newspaper are false and unsubstantiated.''

Enquirer Publisher Harry Whipple said Monday that the newspaper did not refuse to run FERMCO's ad. Because The Enquirer has documented proof to back up its reports, FERMCO officials were asked to delete the words ''and unsubstantiated'' from the ad.

''We did not refuse to run FERMCO's ad. We just asked them to delete two words,'' Mr. Whipple said.

When notified of The Enquirer's request, FERMCO officials rescinded the ad, which was to run in Sunday's editions, saying they no longer wanted to run it in the newspaper.

The ad, which began as ''An Open Letter to the People of Cincinnati,'' detailed the company's claims that it was running a safe operation; that it was saving taxpayers billions of dollars by accelerating the cleanup and that it has a policy of being ''open'' and honest with the U.S. Department of Energy and the public.

It closed by saying the message was from ''The employees of the Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Corporation.''

That prompted Gene Branham, vice president and official spokesman of the Fernald Atomic Trades & Labor Council, to say the ad was not speaking for the 650 Fernald workers represented by his union. Mr. Branham said the union was upset with the ad and FERMCO's insinuation that all employees - including union members - supported the company's claims.

''What the company did in running that ad was tacky and unprofessional,'' Mr. Branham said. ''The company does not speak for our union members about what we know to be the problems out there.''

''In no way did our union membership convey to the company that they could speak for our members like that . . . The union will speak in a loud and clear voice about our concerns at Fernald in the appropriate arena and at the appropriate time,'' he said.

The four-day Enquirer series beginning Feb. 11 detailed numerous problems of FERMCO and its parent company, Fluor Daniel of Irvine, Calif., including the companies' creation of inflated work and cost estimates; issuance of phony reports on cost and performance of various projects; misuse of control accounts and charge numbers used to bill the government; site-wide safety incidents and hiding work-related problems from the Energy Department.

The Enquirer series has led Rep. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, to initiate an independent probe by Congress' investigative arm, the General Accounting Office.

Senators Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and John Glenn, D-Ohio, along with Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, have joined Mr. Portman in supporting the investigation of Fluor Daniel - FERMCO and the Energy Department's oversight at the former uranium-processing plant, 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

Published Feb. 20, 1996.