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Community Advisory Groups: Partners in Decisions at Hazardous Waste Sites Case Studies

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is committed to early, direct, and meaningful public involvement in the Superfund process. One of the ways communities are participating in cleanup decisions at hazardous waste sites around the country is through Community Advisory Groups (CAGs). Community Advisory Groups are made up of representatives of diverse community interests and provide a public forum for community members to present and discuss their needs and concerns about the decision-making process at sites affecting them.

This document includes case studies of Community Advisory Groups at five hazardous waste sites: the Brio Refining, Inc., Superfund Site in Harris County, Texas; the Carolawn, Inc., Superfund Site in Chester County, South Carolina; the Colorado School of Mines Research Institute Site in Golden, Colorado; the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt Site in Jasper County, Missouri; and the Southern Maryland Wood Treating Superfund Site in Hollywood, Maryland. The case studies were developed based on interviews with community members involved in the Community Advisory Groups at these sites, EPA personnel, and State and local government personnel involved in the site cleanup efforts.

Each case study summarizes the responses received to interview questions. No attempt has been made to include every answer by every interviewee. In some cases, interviewees did not have answers to all questions posed; in other cases, answers from more than one interviewee were alike. The effort here has been to provide an overall picture that may be helpful in broadening the use of the Community Advisory Group structure to other hazardous waste sites.

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Case Studies

Community Advisory Groups: Partners in Decisions at Hazardous Waste Sites-Case Studies (PDF)(90 pp, 4.8 MB About PDF)

  • Case Study: Brio Refining, Inc., Harris County, Texas
    • ATTACHMENT 1: CAG Member List 12
    • ATTACHMENT 2: CAG Remediation Goals
    • ATTACHMENT 3: Samples of CAG Meeting Minutes
  • Case Study: Carolawn, Inc., Chester County, South Carolina
    • ATTACHMENT 1: CAB Public Meeting Notices
    • ATTACHMENT 2: CAB Public Meeting Materials
  • Case Study: Colorado School of Mines Research Institute, Golden, Colorado
  • Case Study: Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt Site, Jasper County, Missouri
    • ATTACHMENT 1: Bylaws of the Jasper County EPA Superfund Citizen's Task Force
    • ATTACHMENT 2: CAG Mission Statement
    • ATTACHMENT 3: Resolution No. 95-088
    • ATTACHMENT 4: Lead Education Effort Cited: An Article in the Joplin Globe
  • Case Study: Southern Maryland Wood Treatment Superfund Site, Hollywood, Maryland
    • ATTACHMENT 1: Southern Maryland Wood Treatment Plant Task Force Annual Report

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Lessons Learned

The case studies highlight several important lessons for communities considering formation of a Community Advisory Group. References to individual case studies are made where applicable. The lessons learned are:

Community Advisory Groups (CAGs) Should Be Formed as Early as Possible

All of the case studies demonstrated the importance of early community involvement in the hazardous waste cleanup process (see section on “CAG Formation and Support” in each case study). A Community Advisory Group is one of the most effective mechanisms for fostering community involvement.

Forming a Community Advisory Group early in the decision-making process offers significant benefits:

  • The community can participate in and impact site activities and cleanup decisions.
  • The community has an opportunity to investigate possible remedy selections and to respond to proposed remedies.
  • Trust-building, a slow process, will get an early start.
  • Operations and dynamics within a Community Advisory Group have time to develop and mature.

While there was unanimous agreement that it is preferable to form Community Advisory Groups as early as possible, Community Advisory Groups established even after major site decisions had been made—such as those for the Carolawn and Southern Maryland Wood Treatment sites—have proven effective and continue to serve useful purposes, such as monitoring site progress and pursuing ongoing issues.

The Community Must Take the Initiative in Community Advisory Group Formation and Operation

It is critical that the community “owns” its Community Advisory Group and that the community itself initiates the formation of the Community Advisory Group. Self-selection of members lends legitimacy to the process and ensures that the Community Advisory Group is in the hands of stakeholders.

It is up to community residents to decide if and how they want to form a Community Advisory Group. Some communities, such as the one at the Carolawn site, use an existing framework upon which to build a Community Advisory Group, while others start their group from scratch. See the section on “CAG Formation and Support” in each case study.

EPA can provide support and guidance to Community Advisory Groups at each step: providing information about what a Community Advisory Group is, its benefits, and how to form one; offering advice on alternatives and resources available; and helping with administrative tasks, including advertising, meeting arrangements, and preparation of information summaries, minutes, and other support materials.

The level of EPA support varies depending on the resources available and the needs and desires expressed by the community. For example, EPA Region 4 provided substantial assistance in helping the community at the Carolawn site organize its Community Advisory Group and hold its first meetings. EPA Region 6 has a contractor in an on-site satellite office who provides ongoing administrative support for the Community Advisory Group at the Brio Refining site. On the other hand, EPA Region 3 had no role in the formation of the Community Advisory Group for the Southern Maryland Wood Treatment site and has provided no ongoing administrative support.

Community Advisory Groups Must Be Inclusive and Independent

The credibility of a Community Advisory Group is a function of two characteristics: inclusiveness and independence. The Community Advisory Group must represent all stakeholder interests—both to maintain credibility within the community, and to assure EPA, the State, and the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) that the Community Advisory Group is the voice for the entire community rather than for a few interested parties. More importantly, the Community Advisory Group must be able to act independently, free from the influence of others with an interest in the outcome of the situation.

This is especially important in selecting Community Advisory Group leadership. Community Advisory Group leaders should not have an interest in a particular outcome. For the Brio Refining Community Advisory Board, the community chose leaders who had opposing views to be co-chairs. One of the co-chairs reported that the move “forced us to work together and work out our differences.”

The process by which the Community Advisory Group fulfills its mission must be both open and responsive to community needs and interests. The simplest way to achieve this is to ensure that all Community Advisory Group meetings are open to the public, well advertised, and cover all interests expressed by the local community. Ideally, Community Advisory Group meetings should be facilitated by a disinterested party to ensure that participants do not feel that they are being pushed in one direction or the other. See the section on “CAG Formation and Support” in each case study.

Access to Good Technical Expertise Is Important

Community Advisory Group members at all sites studied agreed that having sound, independent technical advice is a key element of Community Advisory Group success. See the section on “Technical Advisors” in each case study.

Community Advisory Groups for the Brio Refining, Colorado School of Mines Research Institute, and Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt sites hired their own technical advisors, using funding from Federal, State and local sources, to provide the technical advice regarding site remediation strategies and activities. The Community Advisory Groups for the Carolawn and Southern Maryland Wood Treatment sites did not require outside technical assistance, because some of their members had considerable technical expertise and were able to interpret information and advise the groups.

The Community Advisory Group Must Recognize What Is Possible and Work Within Those Limits

Community Advisory Group leaders and EPA must recognize that most ordinary citizens do not have a detailed understanding of the Superfund and other waste cleanup programs. They need clear explanations of the goals, purposes, policies, mechanisms, and limitations of the programs. This extends to a clear understanding of the role and responsibilities of the Community Advisory Group and individual citizens with an interest in the process. For example, the community at the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt site wanted EPA to test for and remove lead paint in homes, an area where EPA has no authority; the authority rests with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Even in cases where EPA has no direct authority, however, the Agency can take an active role in helping communities find information, contacts, and other resources for addressing their needs. See the section on “CAG Effectiveness” in each case study.

Community Advisory Group Leaders Must Be “In It” for the Long Haul

Community Advisory Group leadership should be consistent and prepared to invest whatever time commitment necessary to see the Community Advisory Group through to completion. Effective Community Advisory Groups tend to develop a “personality” that reflects the input of core players in the process. Without effective leadership, Community Advisory Groups may operate in a stop-start fashion, losing credibility as decisions are made haphazardly or wasting time bringing new members up to speed. The case studies on the Brio Refining, Carolawn, and Colorado School of Mines Research Institute sites reveal that stability and perseverance are important ingredients of Community Advisory Group success. See the section on “CAG Effectiveness” in each case study.

Community Advisory Groups Are More Effective Than Public Meetings

It is often difficult to address all issues and concerns in detail at a public meeting. The Community Advisory Group process involves establishing an ongoing forum for discussing and resolving issues and concerns. Community Advisory Groups provide a place where community members with different viewpoints can resolve their differences and develop a unified voice. It also provides a place where the community, EPA, the State, PRPs, and technical experts can take the time to examine and discuss detailed information.

The frequency of Community Advisory Group meetings varied at each site—from as often as twice monthly to as seldom as quarterly. Meeting productivity and the ability to keep the momentum of the group over time are more important that how often meetings are held. A good compromise at the sites studied seemed to be scheduling regular monthly or bimonthly meetings, while retaining the flexibility to schedule special interim meetings as circumstances warrant. For example, the Community Advisory Group at the Brio Refining site meets monthly but has more frequent meetings that focus on specific issues when necessary. See the section on “Communications Tools” in each case study.

The Need for Additional Resources Is A Common Concern

Community Advisory Group members and EPA officials interviewed for the case studies noted the need for additional funding to Community Advisory Groups for administrative, logistical and technical support. EPA Regional staff often provides significant assistance with administrative functions, but often more assistance is needed. Some estimated that support for staffing for 10 to 12 hours per week might suffice. Other Community Advisory Group members said they would like to send out mailings or publish fact sheets or a newsletter to the community at large, but lacked the administrative capacity to do so. See the section on “Suggestions for Other CAGs” in each case study.

Community Advisory Groups Can Give the Community More Influence in Site- Related Decisions

EPA staff and community members interviewed for the case studies agreed that forming a Community Advisory Group increased the community’s influence on site-related decisions. For example, EPA Remedial Project Manager involved with the Community Advisory Board for the Brio Refining site said formation and operation of the group led to a level of mutual respect between EPA personnel and community activists who had been “butting heads” for years over site issues. As a result, most of the site-related issues the community had prior to formation of the Community Advisory Group have been resolved. Formation of the Community Advisory Group also enhanced the community’s influence over site decisions at the Colorado School of Mines Research site. Specifically, EPA staff said the commitment shown by members of the Community Advisory Group encouraged EPA to rely on and trust their feedback. If the group said a particular remedial alternative would not receive community support, for example, EPA would move on and consider another plan. See the section on “Suggestions for Other CAGs” in each case study.

Community Advisory Groups Can Speed Up the Process

In some cases, Community Advisory Groups may help speed the remedy selection and implementation process. With community input through the Community Advisory Group, EPA may be able to screen out remedial alternatives that the community will not accept prior to expending resources on feasibility analyses. In fact, early involvement by the Community Advisory Groups at the Carolawn and Colorado School of Mines Research Institute sites helped prevent delays that could have resulted from strong community opposition to initial remedy selection. In both cases, this opposition sparked formation of a Community Advisory Group.

Community Advisory Groups can provide an effective forum for careful consideration of remedy alternatives. Questions can be answered quickly and information provided early so that the Community Advisory Group—and the community at large—fully understands remedy alternatives. The Community Advisory Group also provides a mechanism for clearing up misconceptions about the cleanup process and for stopping rumors.

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