Park City School District vows to remove toxic dirt before end of the year

Soil containing lead and arsenic that Park City School District plans to remove from Treasure Mountain Junior High School.
Courtesy of Park City School District

The Park City School District has submitted a plan to the Utah Department of Environmental Equalization to remove toxic dirt piles from Treasure Mountain Junior High School’s grounds within a few days of Dec. 18.

The plan was announced at a town hall meeting Thursday night publicly attended over Zoom.

The soil containing arsenic and lead has been a contentious issue for the district, which piled it onto the junior high campus in work later discovered to be in violation of a covenant with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Some of the contaminant soils we are dealing with are from Treasure Mountain Junior High School and some are from other school district locations, such as next door at McPolin Elementary School,” a question-and-answer document published on the district’s website Thursday reads. “The soils were excavated by a subcontractor to the PCSD and placed north of Treasure Mountain Junior High School with the intent of becoming a visual barrier.”

Though the district has yet to officially select a qualified contractor for the job and has not determined the cost, an official with the Department of Environmental Equalization at the meeting said he was confident the plan can be enacted.

Several parents asked school officials and the president of R and R Environmental — a company that specializes in industrial hygiene — details about the plan, as well as risk-mitigation possibilities. At times, the queries and the responses bordered on hostile.

Craig Lobdell asked for an official price estimate on the project and tried to verify if the publicly reported $3 million figure was accurate.

R and R Vice President Stephen Galley said the $3 million figure had ran in publications, though he didn’t mean for it to be a public estimate and said that the cost could be much lower. It will depend on several factors.

According to the question-and-answer sheet, the current estimate range is $1-2 million.

Lobdell also asked about the timeline for the project’s completion and inquired if it could be finished within the school’s Dec. 18-Jan. 1 winter recess. 

Galley explained that due to the potentially dangerous nature of the soil that needs to be removed, several factors such as weather and traffic may affect the timeline. Given the potential risk factors, a job that could take just two weeks with regular material might take closer to six. That said, he specified the piles will be recapped and returned to at times when kids are not in school.

Parent Ashley Gould asked the environmental experts how they would feel about their children being around the pile.

R and R President David Roskelly said his son is actually employed by him and had been involved in testing the piles. While he wouldn’t want his kids playing on them, he said he’d be comfortable if they attended the school. During removal, he added, it will be best if children are not at the location.

An individual who appeared on the Zoom meeting as “Ryan” asked why the school district felt comfortable asking for grants and funding to help in the project, given it’s a result of their mistake.

“We didn’t start the mines,” Park City School District Chief Operations Officer Michael Tanner answered. “While we did move the soil … we didn’t create the environmental situation.”

Ryan was unconvinced that the school district is taking enough accountability.

“Transfer of staff is not an excuse,” Ryan said. “If you can’t communicate from one staff member departing to the next coming in to their place, how can we rely confidently on your ability to educate our children?”

The files with information about the covenant were lost in a district transition, Tanner said.

“It’s something we acknowledge,” he said. “We stumbled.”

Parent Bill Mastin said kids play near the piles and asked if their potential threat doesn’t merit a temporary switch to online location.

“I can’t figure out why there’s a good reason that the school should actually stay in operation,” he said. “What is the possible rationale compared to the risk?”

Roskelly assured him the mounds are no risk to students attending the school, but several other parents echoed Mastin’s concerns with stories of retrieved soccer balls, conversations and sports being too close to the soil for comfort.

Galley didn’t give a specific time estimate when more details of the plan would be made public, but said they will be released when they are solidified.

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