Faster Fernald cleanup?

10-year plan given tentative approval


BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The U.S. Department of Energy has given tentative approval to a plan to accelerate the cleanup of Fernald from 25 years to 10, according to the Energy Department and the company hired to manage the site.

The announcement Thursday came despite unresolved issues and problems with the plan between the Energy Department and the Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO).

Those issues and problems include the scope, schedule and cost of various projects in the plan, called a rebaseline, according to Energy Department and FERMCO records obtained by The Enquirer.

But both FERMCO officials and the government Thursday said they have resolved most of the more than 450 concerns the Energy Department raised since the accelerated cleanup plan was submitted by FERMCO earlier this year.

''The (accelerated plan) . . . was given interim approval pending closure of all open items, and the receipt by June 28, 1996, of all change proposals resulting from the resolution of (the outstanding concerns),'' the Energy Department's Fernald staff said in a written response to Enquirer questions.

A change proposal is the formal, written procedure FERMCO is required to use to ask the Energy Department for a change in the cost, schedule or scope of individual cleanup projects at the 1,050-acre site.

FERMCO President John Bradburne said taxpayers will be the big beneficiaries of the accelerated plan, first proposed by the company last year.

''This is a major step forward,'' Mr. Bradburne said. ''In concrete detail, the rebaseline lays out the steps FERMCO is taking to complete the remediation (cleanup) in 10 years - not 25 - a record pace that will save taxpayers more than $3 billion.''

Neither Mr. Bradburne nor the Energy Department said what the cleanup costs were expected to be if the work takes 25 years.

A written statement by Mike Jacobs, the Energy Department's Fernald spokesman, said: ''DOE has urged FERMCO to expedite the cleanup of the Fernald Environmental Management Project and initiate cost-savings measures in a safe and efficient manner. This 10-year plan accelerates the remediation activities at Fernald, and the interim baseline approval is a major step toward achieving our goal.''

Mr. Jacobs, in response to questions from The Enquirer, said he did not know why the Energy Department and FERMCO announced an ''interim'' acceptance of the plan instead of waiting until it was fully approved by department officials.

Mr. Jacobs also said he did not know why the Energy Department had tentatively approved the accelerated plan for a 10-year period, when Jack Craig, the Energy Department's Fernald Area manager, has repeatedly said he does not believe FERMCO can clean up the site in that time period. Mr. Craig has said a more realistic time period might be 12 to 15 years.

Mr. Craig has not responded to repeated requests by The Enquirer for comment.

FERMCO's efforts to accelerate the Fernald cleanup come while the company's management of the site and the Energy Department's own oversight of the company are under investigation and audit by several groups.

Those audits and investigations are being conducted by: the U.S. General Accounting Office (Congress' investigators); the Department of Defense's Defense Contract Auditing Agency; the Energy Department's Office of Inspector General, and the Energy Department's Ohio Field Office's auditors.

Those probes were launched after The Enquirer began a series of articles on Feb. 11 detailing numerous problems of financial mismanagement and safety problems at Fernald.

FERMCO's contract as manager of Fernald expires in December 1997. The Energy Department, if it chooses, can extend that $2.2 billion contract in one-year steps, or not rehire the company and solicit bids for a new site manager.

Published June 7, 1996.