A Wash Full Of Homeless People And A Quagmire Of Local Politics Raise Vital Questions About Tucson's Future.
By Mari Wadsworth
MARCH 28, 2000: TALK IS CHEAP. Public works projects, however, are quite expensive. There's been a decade of divisive debate among neighbors and government engineers about the city's central watershed, Arroyo Chico, which splices seven neighborhoods on an approximately 10-mile path from Alvernon Way to I-10, in Barrio Anita. The half-complete project will cost $30 million total. The remaining $15-million stretch, hotly contested over the last three years, starts on Parkway Terrace (a tiny commercial/residential street west of Tucson Boulevard) and ends at Park Avenue south of Broadway.
Walk a few miles, and you'll find this wash is more neglected than natural: a drought-striken swatch of palo verde and desert broom, with remnants (like prickly pear and buffalo grass) of whatever flood waters left behind in previous years. You'll also find in this 6.4-acre area a culvert full of human excrement, various others plastered with graffiti, litter both transient and industrial, tire tracks, and homeless camps ranging seasonally from a few to more than a dozen. Arroyo Chico heads underground at Park Avenue; its path, restricted by urbanization and engineered in the 1920s, continues through the northern boundaries of downtown to empty into the wide Santa Cruz.
There is very little right or wrong, so far, about the Arroyo Chico Multi-Use Plan. For one, there's been almost no visible progress on the site. For another, it's as much about values as engineering -- a fact Pima County Flood Control, the lead agency on this project, seems ill-equipped to handle. Pima County and U.S. Army Corps engineers' primary goal is to move water, preferably away from roads, businesses and houses in an 11.4-square-mile section of mid- and downtown. Neighbors' primary fear is what they leave behind in the process. Complicating matters is the presence of a state Superfund site on the eastern boundary of the Arroyo Chico project, right across the street from a high school and in the heart of the San Antonio neighborhood.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The neighbors here have a long history with "progress," a term with a legacy of fear and distrust. It started with the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) Railroad, which did more than build houses for its employee/residents. Its storage and switching yards, formerly contained within Barrio San Antonio, left behind untold gallons of diesel fuel and other toxic byproducts (lumped into the category "volatile organic compounds") that over decades leached into the groundwater. As a result, all known neighborhood wells, and several downtown municipal wells, were capped as unsafe drinking water.
In the '70s, San Antonio made the news after successfully rallying against a neighborhood company using radium, a radioactive constituent of luminescent paint, at one time used in consumer products like glow-in-the-dark watch faces.
Flooding in the early '80s brought chunks of cast concrete tumbling down the arroyo from failed Army Corps engineering of previous decades (the beached debris remains today). And the '90s delivered an enormous, unadorned block wall as the barrier between this quiet neighborhood and the traffic noise on newly constructed, southeast-bound Aviation Parkway.
Anchoring the west end of San Antonio are Accommodation Middle School and Project M.O.R.E. High School -- both facilities for kids whose behavioral and educational needs fall outside the curve of regular public instruction.
Vandalism and other safety issues are vital concerns for any public space in the neighborhood. The Aviation Bike Path that splices that south boundary was barely completed before broken glass and spray paint became its most distinguishing characteristics. And on the east end, an enormous, Y-shaped concrete drainage channel is a prime location for graffiti and illegal dumping.
Despite all this, San Antonio is a good neighborhood, a vibrant neighborhood. Though new residents have been building and rebuilding in recent years, providing a much-needed facelift to older barrio homes, it remains a mid- to low-income neighborhood of longtime residents.
Perhaps it was merely unfortunate that of five possible plans under consideration in 1995-'96 for the Phase II project, the county and COE proposed Alternate 4, with the unromantic title of "Restoration with Shorebird Pond and Perimeter Access Road." The COE report calls it the "preferred plan of state and local agencies," including Arizona Game and Fish. It makes no mention of contrary public opinion.
The county/COE project managers' credibility suffered from a clear lack of familiarity with the neighborhood, its demographics and values concerning the arroyo and all it represents. For one, San Antonio residents are not in the floodplain. For another, even those who favored the project had no desire to "restore" a perennial pond that had never existed in the neighborhood's history, and moreover posed a serious mosquito hazard. Many were skeptical about approving any more infrastructure which past experience had proved the city would have little to no lasting interest in maintaining.
To add injury to insult, the COE schematic design failed to notice the residence of an 89-year-old San Antonio woman, Mrs. Green, smack dab in the project area at the corner of Highland and 15th Street -- an oversight later remedied without question.
The city and county managers anticipated the elimination of the arroyo's homeless population as a project benefit, too. But it was a promise which further alienated several more neighbors, who heard this as a callous and inhumane response to a problem that wasn't, to them, a problem.
Two men in particular, Joaquin Gonzalez and Bill Jones, have inhabited one semi-permanent structure or another in a quiet section of the arroyo near Highland Avenue for the past six to eight years. Local lore has it that Joaquin has been an Arroyo Chico resident for 24 years, longer than many "permanent" residents of this changing barrio.
There was also confusion that language calling for "elimination of 900 structures from the floodplain" meant the actual elimination of those homes and businesses, rather than merely their desirable elimination, on paper, from the area identified as floodplain. Things were not off to a good start.
The next public meeting on record for the Phase II project was May 27, 1997, just 12 days before the close of the public review period for the Environmental Impact Statement that would govern the project. At that meeting, neighbors were told the plan was "just a concept plan," that design would begin after federal authorization for the project was complete. Discussion focused on flood control and aesthetics, with no mention of any environmental factors other than habitat restoration.
While the promise of improvement to the degraded wash was applauded by many, those who'd heard this song and dance before were cautious. For one, it sounded awfully familiar to the Aviation/Barraza detention plan from 1984-'85, roundly defeated by neighborhood opposition. Nor did it inspire confidence that the project before them was jointly designed by Pima County Flood Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the same entities that had contributed to the degradation of the arroyo in the first place.
For example, in 1986, the City of Tucson completed its Arroyo Chico Area Plan touting "the preservation of and improvement to existing neighborhoods, commercial development and industrial areas...in conjunction with drainageways and flood control/floodplain management...to ensure the compatibility of new development with existing uses."
That same year, neighbors in Miles and San Antonio helplessly watched the blading, grading and cementing of a 1,700-foot stretch of natural wash, some 30-feet deep, west of expanded Kino Boulevard.
That unique feature anchoring the neighborhood's eastern boundary is today a barren, concrete graveyard of stolen shopping carts, broken bottles and empty aerosol cans. Not a remnant of vegetation or wildlife remains. It's a source of untold urban problems: a regular recreation area for underage drinking and drug use, graffiti and illegal dumping.
On a gray February morning, an itinerant "canner" pulls his bike up to the fence above the concrete channel, and calls down. "Look at that!" he says of an enormous pile of plastic tubing, wooden spools, and other trash. "That showed up about two weeks ago. I saw it myself. A man and his wife pulled up here, real early in the morning, and just dumped that jive right over the side from their pickup truck.
"I see it all the time," he says with a broad smile, his Hefty bags of aluminum cans rattling. "People drive from all over town, pass 40 dumpsters, and throw their household trash right here."
He talks about the kids who come down here, "college kids," he says ironically. "There be 20 or 30 of them down here on a Saturday night, drinkin'. I come down here afterwards and collect all their cans...It's a gold mine!"
So that's a typical day in the neighborhood.
Downstream, a torrent of water overwhelmed culverts at Broadway and Park/Euclid, swamping what was then still a two-lane boulevard, and damaging businesses at Park/Broadway and downtown. One account cites the evacuation of a mother and child from a home in the Ironhorse neighborhood. It was that event, a former aide told The Weekly, that galvanized the support of former Ward 6 councilwoman Molly McKasson, who followed the project closely and campaigned vociferously for it over the next six years.
At the invitation of the local sponsors, the COE started a Tucson Drainage Area feasibility study in 1992, to investigate flood control along the Tucson Arroyo/Arroyo Chico watershed. The COE study was conducted with the Pima County Department of Transportation and Flood Control District as cost-sharing partners, in cooperation with the City of Tucson. Watercourses in the watershed include Tucson Arroyo, Arroyo Chico, High School Wash, Railroad Wash, Citation Wash and Naylor Wash.
The Miles and San Antonio neighborhoods are in the center of the watershed. From an engineering standpoint, the section of the arroyo upstream from Park Avenue is ideal: its downstream location attracts more potential run-off than its upstream counterpart at Randolph Park, and it contains large parcels of vacant, environmentally degraded land. To date, all of that land in the San Antonio neighborhood -- the sites for three of the four detention basins -- has been purchased by the city for this project. The city has yet to acquire a fourth parcel, the TUSD Cherry field property, that is vital to this project.
After the damaging floods of 1983-'84, concrete reinforcement was a hasty strategy regrettably employed in washes all over the city, not just Arroyo Chico. These days, we know in general terms that concrete causes more damage than remedy, removing natural absorption and speeding movement of water through channels to the detriment of those downstream.
Today, the concrete diversion from Campbell/Kino, built to benefit eastside Davis-Monthan residents, falls just 500 feet short of where the natural wash crosses residential Highland Avenue midtown. Moreover, the 1986 project was the last of the neighborhood park some San Antonio residents recall being promised in the deal.
It was McKasson, together with Pima County District 2 Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, who purportedly got the ball rolling for what would become the Arroyo Chico Multi-Use Project, an interagency project funded jointly by Pima County Flood Control, COE and the City of Tucson Transportation Department.
Here's how it breaks down: the county shelled out $13.7 million for the Phase I detention project in Randolph Park, in anticipation of a federal Water Resources Development Act bill from Congress to fund the COE's $15-million plan for downstream Phase II. The county owes an additional $1.3 million for Phase II; and the city will pay an unspecified amount for aesthetic enhancements.
The county isn't entirely to blame for the last 45 years of intermittent flooding, though. Local sentiment is that flooding isn't a problem in Tucson -- until it happens. The July 1990 thunderstorms resulted in a state disaster declaration for Pima County, the "most significant" of which, the COE feasibility study reports, "was the Tucson Arroyo/Arroyo Chico."
Also significant, however, is that this information, which partly informs the "compelling need for flood control," relies on descriptions of the July '90 flooding rather than actual documentation of peak flows.
Hydrologists and soil engineers as well as neighbors have complained the COE feasibility report employs self-serving data to support its cost-benefit analysis. Another disputed source are Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps from 1979, which pre-date by a decade two significant flood control projects -- one meeting standards for the 100-year flood and the other for a 250-year event -- along Arroyo Chico.
While environmental activists from the Center for Biodiversity have accused the COE of deliberately ignoring more recent FEMA maps, available six months before the EIS was completed, Colonia Solana Neighbhorhood Association president Bill DuPont has a different story to tell.
"In order to qualify for funding for these basins, they had to put more people in the floodplain," he recalls. Prior to 1996, most residents had never had to pay flood insurance. Now homeowners in both Colonia Solana and Broadmoor are required to pay flood insurance, an annual cost as high as $700 for more expensive homes. "We were told at that time, in 1996, that all those homes put into the flood basin area due to the new survey (by COE) would be removed 120 days after completion of the project." When that didn't happen, they were promised a reversal by July 1997.
"We're still in the flood basin area now," DuPont said in February 2000. "There's been litigation, and the remapping has been upheld."
Asked if there had been flooding before, Du Pont answers: "We did have some flooding problems on Randolph Way in 1986. But not into any of our homes, no. There were some homes further down on Tucson Boulevard and Plumer that were affected." And he says there has been no flooding since. "This is the funny part. We weren't in the floodplain before, and in an engineering sense, we've been removed from the 100-year floodplain now. But (four years later) we're still paying flood insurance."
There is no question that downtown flooding issues need to be addressed, particularly on the last, uncompleted mile of the Aviation/Barraza strip. While the downstream benefit of these basins to the Aviation project is no secret, it's a piece of the Arroyo Chico picture that's nonetheless been minimized in the affected neighborhoods, and downplayed by the local sponsors.
Instead, city and county representatives have appealed to the neighborhoods -- first in Colonia Solana and later in Miles and San Antonio -- to "think of their neighbors downstream." They have been told this project was to take 1,100 homes and businesses out of the floodplain, to protect neighborhoods from 100-year-flooding, and not only to restore, but improve, the aesthetic and recreational value of the Arroyo Chico watercourse. All of which are true.
The bureaucrats conveniently neglect to mention, however, that millions of dollars and unrelated transportation issues are contingent upon this project proceeding according to plan.
"They told us, and we looked at it, as an overall benefit to the Tucson community, not just to our neighborhood. We were told infrastructure underneath the downtown area could no longer handle the amount of runoff, and the detention basins would slow things down to alleviate that."
DuPont is frustrated by what he describes as bureaucratic stonewallling on the lingering issues of the remapping and a city-promised public art commission, but he remains positive about the project's net results. He attended two years of meetings for the Phase II/Arroyo Chico project, and notes the differences. "This time, there has been two to three years of planning. I think, and I hope, that the city has learned from its mistakes in our neighborhood. We had only a short period of time -- six weeks -- to alleviate problems we saw with their plan." The objections he cites pertain to lighting, bike path elevations, softening slopes and nixing an unsightly 12-foot berm that would obstruct views. They are similar concerns to those expressed at this early stage by various San Antonio residents.
"It's a project that's been going on since the early '90s, so it has a lot of history to it. Restoration of that area is key, as opposed to recreation," DuPont opines. "Parks bring an element to your neighborhood you're not aware of. They bring crime. We'll always have the homeless people camping in our washes, but that's different from gangs and vandalism."
And because greater sins have been committed (and still may be) than to force a manicured river park upon a marginal neighborhood, why try to stop it? After five years of slow progress, the bureaucratic machine might've continued unchecked, but for one complication: a neighborhood meeting about the cleanup of PCE and diesel-contaminated groundwater, located on the Mission Linen property on South Park Avenue between Manlove and 13th streets.
"We're talking about a Superfund site less than 500 feet from the first detention basin," Buffum says. "That immediately had my bells and whistles going off. When we asked ADEQ how their project might relate to the county/COE project, their response was, 'What detention basin project?' "
An ardent environmental activist and staff member at the Tucson-based Center for Biodiversity, Buffum started gathering information. "This document," she says, waving a 1,000-page, COE-prepared Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) during a July 1999 interview, "came out in July 1997, and this was the final EIS. After this meeting with Mission, (the neighborhood association) brought up concerns with ADEQ as to how this site would be affected by the detention basins, and what sort of communication would be happening between the contaminated soil, the aquifer and these basins.
"We went back to this document, and it didn't mention Mission Linen at all."
That's not entirely true. The Final EIS does mention Mission Linen by name, in a single summary paragraph some 200 pages into the report: "The closest contamination site to the study area is the downtown and Mission Linen area...generally situated along Congress Street between Stone Avenue and Euclid Avenue." It fails to mention Park Avenue, the actual location of Mission Linen, or its proximity to what is referred to elsewhere as "the Park Avenue detention basin." Nowhere does it characterize the contamination, though the information has been widely available since 1989, nor mention Mission Linen's status as a state Superfund site.
Regardless of what later studies reveal about the impact of widespread diesel and PCE contamination on this project, their omission from a feasibility report that spells out environmental impact down to dust particles and emissions from construction equipment is an egregious flaw.
"The Center deals with the COE on a daily basis," Buffum says. "Quite frankly, we always have to litigate to get them to do the right thing...whether it's protecting an endangered species or protecting the watercourse way."
For ADEQ's part, the underfunded Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (or WQARF), the remediation program governing the Mission Linen cleanup, that year received long overdue reform from the Arizona Legislature. In addition to creating a proportionate "fair share" liability scheme to "encourage volunteerism by responsible parties," the revised statute increased funding from $1.5 million to $18 million annually ($15 million for site work; and $3 million for staffing and administration).
While hardly a generous budget for a state with long-neglected and highly toxic mining, railroad, landfill and chemical concerns, it nonetheless increased staffing in the Tucson-ADEQ office from two to 10, and afforded initiation of long-term plans for cleanup of several sites. Of the 27 toxic hot-spots currently listed on the statewide WQARF registry, seven are in the metro Tucson area. The diesel and PCE-contaminated Mission Linen site falls somewhere in the middle of that list in terms of priorities.
Though identified as an environmental hazard in 1989, site work and plans for cleanup are still in the preliminary stages.
What is known is that PCE contamination exists in both the soil and groundwater directly under the site. In a shallow aquifer located 90 feet below grade, both diesel fuel and PCE were detected, the latter in concentrations up to 40,000 parts per billion.
Where the PCE had mixed with the diesel, the PCE concentration soared to 33 million ppb. In the regional aquifer approximately 220 feet below grade, PCE concentrations were detected at 11,000 ppb. The federal standard for safe drinking water is 5 ppb. These numbers are taken from a July 1999 letter from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to Governor Hull's office, in which the EPA expressed their dissatisfaction with the state's progress at that time.
And yet, in a letter to the COT Transportation Director dated January 12, 1998, Keenan defends, "There is no logical or scientifically valid way that the proposed park and flood control basins could exacerbate the Mission Linen problem."
Nobody but the county and COE has taken such a position. Three months later, in a report that would not be shared with project watchdogs until almost two years after the fact, the city's own environmental consultants reveal information that, had it been received in a timely manner, would contradict assumptions made by the county.
For one, the Phase II Environmental Site Assessment confirms a previously disputed claim that groundwater flow in both contaminated aquifers is indeed to the northeast, through the project site and toward the central well field. It also quantifies rates of water percolation through the soil "ranged from 4.3 feet per day to 62 feet per day" in the proposed basin areas. Percolation was slowest, the report says, in the site closest to Mission Linen. Basin 1 is 300 feet northeast of the subsurface contaminated soil, and adjacent to two streets lined with single-family homes and one low-density apartment complex.
In the same letter, Keenan says: "The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has been monitoring the Mission Linen issue and the environmental studies and design for the proposed flood control basins, and has found no significant impact of the proposed basins on the Mission Linen problem."
Southern Region Superfund Supervisor Mike Fulton, however, has been frank that ADEQ has not collected adequate data to know exactly how to characterize the Mission Linen site. Their investigation so far has focused on groundwater, not soil contamination, for example. Mission Linen last month began its own extraction of PCE from the soil, a system of vaccuum pumps and charcoal filters that hasn't been running long enough to evaluate.
ADEQ is also concerned with other potential sources of contamination, of which they cite Mission Linen as only one. "As our remedial investigation matures, we'll know more about how, or if, there is a connection between the two (projects)," Fulton said in late February. "Discussions have been occurring in the past with less than perfect information. One of those is how the hydro-geology might be connected. As we collect more data, we'll be able to have more intelligent conversations about that."
Because the basins will be completely dry for several years at a time, with stormwater detension during flooding presumed to last fewer than 36 hours even in unusually severe flooding, the ability of rain water to penetrate 90 feet to meet with the contamination has been presumed unlikely. That still seems to be the case, although the county's arrogance only adds to misgivings that vital information could be buried with the project, or sidestepped altogether.
While the Phase II report ultimately supports the basin project area as "clean," it also reveals the plodding bureaucracy that has hindered the flow of information vital to both citizens and agencies. The Phase II report is dated April 1998. It's been in-house since last summer; and yet in February 2000, it still hadn't made its way out of the county building -- despite standing requests by neighborhood associations, environmentalists, and the city's Citizen Advisory Committee. It's precisely that kind of insular, institutional lack of ownership for this complex project that continues to undermine public trust that the county has any meaningful intention of including the public in its decision-making process.
Moreover, ADEQ has not determined where or how far the toxic plume extends in the shallow and regional aquifers. As a result of both local and EPA concern last summer, ADEQ expanded its boundary a mile north of the Mission site, near three active UA production wells. Sentinel wells installed and tested last November and again in February satisfied some concerns about where the plume was not.
"It's not threatening any production wells," Fulton and Park-Euclid project manager Matt Doolen agree. Which is not to suggest there is less cause for vigilance. They have yet to install adequate monitoring wells within the San Antonio neighborhood, or to begin to identify a clean-up plan.
"We're looking at the environmental cleanup like Mom and apple pie -- who's against that?" Fulton says. "But we're in a spot where there are many agendas out there that aren't environmentally related. They have to do with economic development. We still have to be sensitive to that; that's a factor we have to deal with. We're trying to keep our eye on the prize, which is environmental control and cleanup, but we are not forgetting that it's connected politically to Arroyo Chico -- and it may even somehow be hydro-geologically connected. We just don't have a great handle on that yet."
Both Fulton and Doolen are relatively new to the project, having been assigned to the Southern Region office in late 1999.
"I have no first-hand knowledge of the past management of this project," Fulton says. "I do know that successful clean-up at the site depends on input from the whole community, including the COE and Pima County Flood Control. We're not myopic; we're going to look at all those things as we continue."
But between September and November, Buffum and San Antonio Neighborhood Association President Ted Warmbrand, among several others, wrote letters to the COE, the EPA, ADEQ. They gathered signatures, called congressmen, cornered public officials, and demanded documents. They organized, argued, and in short, made themselves heard.
Two important things happened as a result: the EPA initiated their own investigation of the Mission Linen site; and mayor and council appointed a Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) in January 1998. The 13-member CAC, chaired by 52-year-old architect and Miles resident Corky Poster, drafted a four-page "list of demands," the first of which was completion of all environmental site assessment with a report of those findings and recommendations to the CAC. That didn't happen, but the design revisions outlined in the draft were embraced by the city.
Those March 1998 recommendations resulted in a vastly different design concept accepted by the COE in recent months. Gone is the shorebird pond, the steep embankments, the basketball court and bright lights on Manlove. Open spaces, with passive recreation like bike and pedestrian paths, replace playgrounds and ball courts. Preserved is the natural course of the arroyo itself, with a slightly modified depth and slope to those three neighborhood basins.
The revised plan calls for more gradual slopes, greater access via pedestrian and bike paths, arched walkways between the basins, the relocation of a sentimental footbridge, and the preservation of an existing structure on COT land for use as a possible neighborhood center.
The plan also asks for the removal of existing concrete and debris from the wash, park elements that meet the "Safe By Design" criteria provided by the Tucson Police Department, and space for a community garden, among other enhancements. The only change Keenan says the COE made was to remove a turf area to make way for more desert plantings.
"(County officials) said when they bring in their big things," she motions with her arms, "they'll take the contaminated dirt away...if they find any. But how are they going to know? Are they going to stop and test every half hour? And what about the airborne stuff? Already, there are a lot of old people who live along (Manlove), who suffer from asthma. It's so complicated. And we're just a little neighborhood association...what can we do?"
Concerns like Kelly's are what Ted Warmbrand says "launched his political career" back in 1996. He's an old-school activist, a grass-roots organizer who, along with wife Jackie, has devoted his adult life to "fighting the good fight," from nuclear proliferation to leading the charge during the aforementioned radium scare. His life experiences have reinforced that unnecessary risks have repeatedly been visited upon a community for no greater reason than the arrogance of a few incautious technocrats; and also, that ordinary citizens can make a difference if they stick together, remain vigilant, and question the experts. A New York native, he's lived in Barrio San Antonio since the 1970s.
Warmbrand was president of the San Antonio Neighborhood Association when Arroyo Chico picked up speed in 1997, and his experiences have made him one of the project's staunchest critics.
"I'm not against projects," he refutes of his reputation. "But for everything good, there's a side effect. What's in one person's interest isn't in another's interest." He believes spending this $30 million on flood control is "a make-do, pork barrel project."
"Maybe that's good and maybe it's not," he questions. "I don't want to oppose it (for the sake of opposition), I just want to see what's good for the neighbors."
Warmbrand is a passionate speaker, and he has a creative bent for analogy that's no doubt befuddled and exhausted neighbors and bureaucrats on both sides of the issue. For example, he likened Arroyo Chico's beautification aspects to a breast implant, saying, "What is this? Who says we need this? Who are we going out to dinner with, that we have to look so good?"
In all seriousness, he continues. "I want to know what these agencies are offering us. Everybody's getting some benefit: the Transportation people, the people who construct it, the people who will no longer have to pay flood insurance. Meanwhile, we (in San Antonio) are going to risk exposure to undiscovered contaminants during construction. We risk being in a floodplain where we weren't in a floodplain before; and down the road, old-time homeowners on fixed incomes will risk property value and tax increases that could be three times what they are now. It's the whole issue that's not being addressed."
CAC chair Corky Poster has a different view. "For years, I opposed (the basin project) because it wasn't going to be done right," he says. "But for the first time, there seemed like a way, following the principles of Randolph Park, to create a beautiful, landscaped wash. To create open space that was a positive aspect of the neighborhood, and to solve some of the drainage problems -- that all seemed to me able to be done. But the city doesn't have much power in the process at this point, and I'm still not convinced the county and Corps of Engineers will do it. Just because they approved a plan doesn't mean their version of implementing it really looks like what we had in mind."
When the city and county again came to the neighborhood in July 1999 to win neighborhood support with a softer image and friendlier design, they still didn't have anything meaningful to say about the environmental issues. They never ruled out the potential for contamination, they merely repeated they hadn't found any.
Warmbrand counters: "Maybe they shouldn't do the project at all. But that's not even being discussed, because they have this model, they have this design. They have created this project with leading statements. They never asked if we wanted it, they just started asking how. That's a very different question, and it avoids the real issues: is it safe, and who does it really benefit? Is it good for some neighbors without being good for the neighborhood?"
Poster and his family have lived along the arroyo for 40 years, and he's respectful of the concerns of both residents like Warmbrand, and those who favor the ambitious project. "I'm willing to be a cautious optimist," he says. "But frankly, if it looks like people are content to ignore what citizens are saying, if engineers don't want to do the aesthetic aspects of this right, if there's an environmental risk, then I'm more than happy to be an opponent of it."
The CAC hasn't met for a year and a half, nor has Poster received word from the city or the county about when it will reconvene. "The last meeting was supposed to be in the middle of January," he says. "It keeps getting postponed." The Weekly did learn that six new members on the 13-person CAC had been appointed in recent months to replace those who'd resigned, and a project update meeting is tentatively scheduled for late April.
"We're still relatively early in this project," ADEQ's Fulton says. "We have the opportunity to get the community involved from the investigation all the way through the remediation. The cynic might say it's mandated, but the biggest change (with the 1997 statute revisions) is this huge community involvement component now. We're required to go out and seek this input."
Fulton and Doolen have knocked on enough doors to know what they're up against. "From other projects I've seen in Tucson," Fulton says, "if you don't have the community on your side, no matter how scientifically sound your solution is, it may not happen. Getting more opinions inevitably slows things down a little, but you end up with a better project. That's what the Citizen Advisory Board is all about."
That's advice Pima County would do well to heed. Arroyo Chico and Mission Linen may prove to have little to do with one another in an engineering sense, but thousands of people will have to live and breathe the decisions made for them by a handful of bureaucrats for generations to come.
Like the metaphorical water over rock, Keenan is unwavering in moving this project forward wherever resistance is least. "We are past feasibility and in what you would call an engineering/design phase," he says brightly. "The construction documents should be ready in May 2001." For the county/COE, this is a relatively quick and dirty affair: a few months of design, a few months of review, 12 to 16 months of construction, and they're out of there for good. Barring further obstacles, in two to three years, Arroyo Chico will be somebody else's problem.
The Mission Linen site, on the other hand, will spend this year studying the larger San Antonio area to create a more complete picture of the situation. "We're like the garbage men," Fulton says. "It's our job to come in and clean things up, but we don't know yet what exactly we need to collect."
What they do know is that it isn't a simple process. Removing PCE from the groundwater and soil is fairly straightforward, but how to safely remove PCE from the diesel product has not yet been determined. Until they know the extent of contamination, ADEQ won't know how long or how expensive remediation will be. But based on other sites, like the TCE/TARP cleanup, it's safe to say we're talking 10 to 20 years.
"It's a long-term deal," Fulton and Doolen agree.
Those lingering environmental questions still have not been answered to the satisfaction of some neighbors. Poster, recently reappointed as CAC chair, is among them. "The environmental problem is a real problem," he says. "If it doesn't look right, if it's going to cause health problems for the people who live there, then we shouldn't do it. But I'm also willing to say let's look at it, and let's talk to people. Let's not say absolutely this can't work and we don't want to look at any more facts."
No matter how many battles you win as an individual, a bureaucracy is always in a better position to win the war. And the longer people have to forget, the easier the victory. Think of it as the slowest game of chicken imaginable, with a car full of neighbors, a car full of engineers, and an environmental garbage truck careering toward each other at glacial speed. It isn't much of a spectator sport, but it isn't a match you want anyone to lose, either.
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