By Jack King
About 30 area residents, dignitaries, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, state and federal officials gathered at Santa Fe Lake on Thursday. Their purpose was to celebrate the transformation of the lake — a playa about one mile south of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad yard in Clovis — from one of the nation’s first Superfund sites to a 36-acre home of deer and rabbits.
Beginning in the early 1900s, wastewater was discharged from the BNSF yard into the lake, resulting in a buildup of heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons and cyanide. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted an environmental site investigation. In 1983, the lake was listed on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities list. It was finally taken off the list in March.
“It’s come a long way, baby,” State Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said Thursday. “I can remember coming by this site when it wasn’t nearly this attractive. The remediation is a plus for our community and an enhancement for the Clovis industrial park.”
Dave Clark, director of BNSF’s environmental remediation program, said the transformation of Santa Fe Lake had been a multi-million dollar project that took about 20 years.
“But it was all done with BNSF money, under EPA direction; no public funds were expended. And no materials were taken off site. There was no transfer of contaminants. Twenty years isn’t a long time when you consider the techniques used in the cleanup,” he said.
Myron O. Knudson, regional director of the EPA’s Superfund division, noted that Santa Fe Lake had been among the first 500 sites nationwide listed by the EPA in 1983. It was the first Superfund site in New Mexico.
Remediation of the site took 20 years because BNSF used excavation and nutrients to break down hydrocarbons in the soil. Using chemicals to harden the hydrocarbons, then burying them at the site, would have been quicker, but much less thorough, he said.
“It took an extra eight years this way, but that’s the reason it’s so clean,” he said.
Issued golden shovels, several officials joined in planting a desert willow at the site.
Blake Curtis, president of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of Curtis and Curtis Seed and Supply, Inc., said the desert willow is a good symbol of the site.
“It’s a plant with medicinal properties and a refuge for wildlife, so it’s a life-giving plant and a symbol of new life,” he said.
Mayor David Lansford called the lake’s remediation “a great reason to celebrate.”
“The health of our community is no longer at risk from the contaminants in the lake. It’s nice to know the lake now can be used for natural purposes, like collecting storm water, which is an enhancement for development in south Clovis,” he said.
City Commissioner Gloria Wicker noted that a doe has taken up residence in the playa and other attendees said rabbits can be seen feeding there early in the morning.