For Cushing, cleanup is breath of fresh air

Land O'Lakes, the Minnesota-based company known for its butter, has spent the past year removing lead, arsenic, asbestos and other harmful materials that for more than 20 years have been sitting at an abandoned refinery site on the edge of Cushing.
By Hailey Branson-Potts, Staff Writer Published: October 10, 2010
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photo - A backhoe cleans out an old pond at the Cushing Superfund sight. Clean up is taking place at the Cushing, Okla Superfund site on Tuesday June 22, 2009. Photo by Mitchell Alcala, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
A backhoe cleans out an old pond at the Cushing Superfund sight. Clean up is taking place at the Cushing, Okla Superfund site on Tuesday June 22, 2009. Photo by Mitchell Alcala, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
While there may have been a fence around the site, there is always the issue of trespassers and the potential for contaminants to leave the site.”

The cleanup

Cushing Middle School students in 1998 started a letter-writing campaign asking the government to investigate the refinery site. The letters caught the attention of the EPA.

That year, the agency did an emergency removal of asbestos and dismantled the rusted towers.

Residents near the refinery were evacuated the week before Christmas while the EPA removed 6,000 gallons of hydrofluoric acid left in a tank in case the refinery reopened.

The site was added to Superfund's National Priorities List in 1999.

In January 2009, the EPA ordered Land O'Lakes, under the Superfund law, to pay for the cleanup despite having never run the refinery.

Land O'Lakes became the EPA's “potentially responsible party” for the cleanup since it merged in 1981 with a former owner, Midland Cooperatives, and the most recent owner, Hudson Oil Co., no longer exists. The location became a Superfund site in 1999.

“At the time of the merger, Land O'Lakes did not know, and could not have known, that the refinery was a Superfund site,” Jeanne Forbis, a spokeswoman for Land O'Lakes, wrote in an e-mail. “Land O'Lakes continues to dispute the extent to which it is responsible for cleanup expenses at the site.”

The company is performing the cleanup because of its “corporate citizenship and environmental stewardship principles” and will “defer to the future the dispute over Land O'Lakes' alleged liability,” Forbis wrote.

Backhoes and heavy machines have been driving in and out of the site every weekday since spring.

After the cleanup is complete, all the contaminated material from the site will be taken to a specially permitted landfill, said Byron Starns, the project coordinator and an attorney for Land O'Lakes. The site also will be given a makeover, including the replanting of grasses and mowing.

Spears, the city manager, hopes to see the land become useful again.

“If the refinery were still up and running and providing jobs to the community, that would be the community's preference, but once it shut down and it was clear it wouldn't be opened back up, everyone was glad it was removed,” he said.


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