Proposed superfund settlement plan irks officials

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A preliminary federal report that recommends a cash settlement for environmental damage in Clovis be invested more than a hundred miles away has ruffled several local officials.

The state and federal report recommends a $459,000 settlement from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway be used for the restoration of approximately 43 acres of wetland habitat at Bottomless Lakes State Park in Roswell, although BNSF compromised land and wildlife in Clovis.

“It makes me sick,” Clovis City Commissioner Randy Crowder said. “They are taking funds settled for our community and spending them in another community.”

For years, BNSF dumped wastewater from its operations into a playa lake about a mile south of its railroad yard in Clovis, according to the report. In the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered heavy metal, cyanide and other hazardous substances in and surrounding the lake.

Migratory birds, waterfowl, and other wildlife dependent upon the lake were physiologically injured from the contaminants and lost a chunk of useable habitat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee released the Draft Natural Resources Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment for that site — named the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway New Mexico Superfund Site — in September.

Their report considers an array of alternatives that would “restore, replace, and/or acquire the equivalent of natural resources injured, destroyed or lost as a result of the release of hazardous substances at or from the Clovis site,” a copy of the draft reads.

An estimated 187,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, sediment and water at the Superfund site have already been cleaned up by BNSF. Native grasses and water at the site have also been restored.
The Department of Justice ruled BNSF incur the cost of an additional restoration project, however.

Two Clovis restoration alternatives — the creation of a bird viewing platform at Ingram Lake and the creation of a lake for recreational, fishing, boating and wildlife purposes at Ned Houk Park — are dismissed in the report. City administrators proposed the alternatives, according to Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas.

The report deems the Ingram Lake alternative failed to meet the definition of habitat improvement and restoration and the Ned Houk alternative was too expensive, too recreational in nature, and could jeopardize the environment.

Alternatives pitched for Curry County, Portales and Hobbs are also discarded in the report.

The Roswell alternative “has clear overall benefits to the environment,” the report reads. Because it fits most closely with federal and state restoration criteria, it is recommended above other alternatives, the report reads.

That conclusion puzzles local officials.

“The location of Superfund site is here in Curry County. I am a little perplexed that they wouldn’t bring the funds to this area,” Thomas said.

“The dollars associated with that penalty should be spent in Curry County,” Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said.

The draft is available online at: www.fws.gov./ifw2es/Library.
Comments concerning it will be accepted until Nov. 13 and can be sent to: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Regional office, Ecological Services, P.O. Box 1306, Room 4012, Albuquerque, NM 87101, Attention: Laila Lienesch.