Interior secretary dumps landmark status for California landfill
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – For a fleeting moment of glory, the city’s former dump – 79 million cubic yards of rotting garbage so noxious it is a Superfund toxic waste site – was a national historic landmark.
A little more than 24 hours later it was just another dump.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton stripped the landfill of its landmark status Tuesday after reviewing a recommendation from the National Park Service, said spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna.
The landfill earned the distinction Monday, joining such notable places as Monticello, Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, Fla., and Walden Pond.
Before the day was out, Interior Department officials had second thoughts after learning the 145-acre dump was given the ignoble Superfund label by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989.
Denis Galvin, deputy director of the National Park Service, wrote to Norton on Monday, asking that the historic landmark status be withdrawn.
Galvin said he did not know of the Superfund designation when he recommended the landfill as one of 15 sites Norton honored for their national historic and cultural significance.
Hanna said lower level park service employees knew the site was a toxic dump, but didn’t tell an advisory board that forwarded the nomination to Norton.
Hanna said the park service will review the decision and make another recommendation. She said there are other Superfund sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
The department’s decision to rescind the designation came swiftly after environmental groups said the toxic landmark symbolized the Bush administration’s distance from the people of California.
”It seems to me that somebody didn’t do their homework and didn’t do any thinking,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. ”What can I say, it’s just weird.”
To the casual observer, the Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill – opened in 1937 and closed in 1987 – is just another dusty patch in the center of the richest agricultural land in the nation.
To historians, it is the nation’s first true sanitary landfill, where garbage was compacted and buried each day in trenches to prevent vermin and disease.
It was a milestone for public health, said Martin Melosi, a professor of history at the University of Houston who wrote the 1981 book ”Garbage in the City.” Melosi nominated it as a landmark for that reason, and that was what the Interior Department thought it was honoring.
However, the landfill’s waste has polluted groundwater with paint, solvents and other hazardous chemicals. Explosive methane must be burned off.
The cleanup has cost $38 million so far, according to Leo Kay of the EPA.
”We have hundreds of former landfills across the country that are undergoing multimillion-dollar cleanups,” Kay said. ”You would have thought more discussion would have taken place prior to making such a designation.”
The city is so confident the land will be restored to its onetime glory that it’s building a 115-acre park next door with soccer fields, softball diamonds and picnic grounds.
”We’re turning that trash into a treasure,” Mayor Alan Autry boasted. ”It’s something that this city can be proud of.”
On the Net:
Interior Department: http://www.doi.gov/index.html
National Historic Landmarks: http://www.cr.nps.gov/nhl
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