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Transcript: Soaring the Superfund Skies

Melissa Friedland: “My name is Melissa Friedland and I’m the Superfund program manager for redevelopment at the Environmental Protection Agency, and I work with Regions to see what we can do to get Superfund properties into reuse. We have a partnership with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and it came about because I got a call one day from somebody named Joe Beshar, who’s a very enthusiastic and energetic person and said, ‘I represent the Academy of Model Aeronautics and I have no place to fly my airplanes and I think Superfund sites are just great.’ And I don’t hear that every day.”

Joe Beshar:  “I’m Joe Beshar, past vice-president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and acting as the National Flying Site assistance coordinator. It was very refreshing to me, out of all the agencies that I had approached in the past, that the Environmental Protection Agency had a positive attitude and an open mind toward what we were trying to do.”

[Cut to scene of AMA members flying model airplanes].

“Nice day. Not a cloud in the sky. Crystal clear.”

Melissa Friedland: “And what Joe Beshar said to me is, ‘we have a hundred and forty thousand members across the United States, and we’re sort of increasingly locked out of places to fly our airplanes, and we think Superfund sites might be a real opportunity for us.’ And he said ‘and we don’t just go there and fly our airplanes, we go there and we clean up and - and we police the place and we make sure that the people on that property take very, very good care of it.’”

[Cut to scene of AMA members flying model airplanes].

“One more click left. Another click left.”
“All right. Let’s see what she looks like now. We’re going the other way.”
“Dave, you’re really doing good!”
“Give me three clicks right.”

Joe Beshar: “The relationship of what EPA wanted to do with these unused properties that are sitting there idle, coupled with the need of for the Academy of Model Aeronautics to pursue and have flying sites available, became the agenda.”

Dave Brown: “My name is Dave Brown I’m the AMA – currently the AMA president. I’ve been the AMA president now for twelve years, I’m just about to retire. I think our problem with getting more youth involved in model aviation today is not inspiring enough to fly model airplanes. I think there’s every bit as much desire to fly model airplanes and they’re just as inspired to fly it as ever. But our problem is more one of flying sites, the ability - the flying sites are being forced further and further off into the - into the boonies, if you will - away from the metropolitan areas and so on. The ability to – to get more flying sites, and to basically reclaim some land that has very, very little other use, and put it to good use, put it to a use that - that entertains people that gives them things to do, constructive things, I think is beneficial to our society as a whole. It’s certainly very beneficial to the aeromodeling.”

Melissa Friedland: “This in a sense is the finest example of what some people call a long-term stewardship because it’s somebody who’s really interested in this property and really wants to look after it and really cares about it. It’s almost as though, if you have an empty house, a nice, new, empty house, it’s the difference between having the house empty, and having somebody move into it. And when somebody moves into it, they’re going to take care of it, and make sure that it’s in really good shape, and that it stays in good shape.”

Joe DeSanto: “Well this field is I don’t remember exactly, but it’s like a hundred and forty acres or something like that, of which we only maintain only about three acres of it. And initially when we came to this site, there was a bowl configuration here about eight-foot deep. And we were able to gain wood chips from a local construction site. We dumped the wood chips in here and spread them out and capped them off with topsoil. The topsoil, it was then seeded and sodded in some places, and that’s what we have to fly off today. Well every year we - as you would in your home - we fertilize and fill in the holes, and regain some topsoil from the township of Jackson, and we sift the topsoil and we place it in the holes keeping the wood chip pile from decaying. As long as we keep it capped, the - the field stays pretty good.”

[Cut to scene of AMA members flying model airplanes].

“Very good.”
“Well that was just the wind. That was just the wind.”

James Woolford: “So having groups like the AMA you know out there on the sites and reusing the sites really uh helps us both I think. They get to reuse the site for their purposes, and then, you know we’re helped out because we don’t have to maintain a constant visual at the site.”

Dave Brown: “The thing that the modelers do that I think is very beneficial, and right here is an example, is they’ll take an otherwise barren piece of land, and, and they’ll put in an awful lot of time and effort to make it into a flying site. That feeling of pride in what they’ve built up and the way they maintain those flying sites, I, I think is crucial, and is an example of why our partnership with the EPA thing will work is this, this sense of pride that makes them make it better. And maintain it, take care of it, and etc.”

Joe Beshar: “It’s definitely a peace of mind due to the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency enforces the cleanup of these sites, which might have been contaminated in the early days, and then before they issue the NPL acceptance, it’s, it’s expected to be held sound. So whenever somebody shows any kind of a, of a – a concern, that leverage calms them down and cools them down and accept the fact that this is an ideal area for the practice and the - and the participation of this activity.”

Dave Brown: “I haven’t seen any, uh, any hesitancy whatsoever. It’s, uh, almost a non-issue. I’ve not heard anybody say, ‘oh, I don’t want to fly out there because I’m worried about this or worried about that.’ Uh, they just want a place to fly.  I – I can’t imagine anyone being that concerned about it. I can’t imagine that the EPA, by its nature, would clear a site to go out and fly on it if it wasn’t safe for the people to be doing.”

Melissa Friedland: “People say, ‘oh but – what if those – one of those model airplanes crashes, it could ruin our remedy, and that’s just not true. We have plenty of, um cover on top of a landfill – three feet or more – and these planes, even if they took just a nosedive, would not do any damage. They do damage to the plane, and damage to the pride of the person working the controls on the ground, but the remedy is, is okay, so that’s not something we have to worry about.”

[Cut to scene of AMA members flying model airplanes].

“It’s part of the game. You know they say they all have a number, it’s just a matter of when they come up.”

Joe Beshar: “When we go out, and we look at an industrial site, and we’re trying to convince them to give us permission to fly on that site, and if we’re able to cite that a memorandum of understanding, a partnership, has been set up with the Environmental Protection Agency, that is leverage. They raise their eyebrows. They raise their eyebrows.”

James Woolford: “And we have five hundred sites now in reuse. We have a thousand, you know five hundred more where we’ve actually completed construction on the remedy, and that, you know in the next five to ten years, we, we can you know add another five hundred sites into, you know that beneficial use, beneficial reuse category, you know, and so most of our sites, we can go out and say, most of our sites are now being reused. You know, they’ve become assets to the community you know, and that they are actually returning value back to – to the communities where they were once an eyesore or a detriment.”

Melissa Friedland: “AMA got a place to fly their airplanes, but we got a shot at environmental legacy. And the fact is, when you turn – when you take a blighted piece of property, and you not only clean it up but you return it to beneficial use, you’re really giving something to your children and to their children and to the next generation. So, this whole idea of long-term stewardship and environmental legacy and - and keeping the environment in good shape, it – it sounds crazy that it would be related to model airplanes, but in fact it is because somebody’s kind of stood up and saying I want to take responsibility now for this land. EPA’s done its job and now I want to take it to the next step.”

Dave Brown: “Good partnerships benefit both, both of the two elements. And I think that the partnership that we have with the EPA is - is really good because it gives a constructive, good use for properties like this that you can’t really build too much on, at least for quite a number of years. And it puts those properties to good use, to a - a public benefit use that you can get more kids involved, it’s good sport for people of all ages.”

Melissa Friedland: “Since I got Joe Beschar’s initial phone call I don’t think I’m going to be surprised now about anybody who calls me and says, you know, I heard you might have a Superfund site where I could do X,Y,Z – who knows. Even if you’re not a model airplane flyer, you’ll in some way broaden your thinking almost about, wow – this was a Superfund site and look what happened to it. And so it kind of challenges everybody to think more broadly about what can be the new face of Superfund, what – what can happen at a Superfund site.”

Joe Beshar: “If we don’t have a place to fly, model aviation cannot survive. We don’t want the land, we just want the air above it.“

Melissa Friedland: “And I think the nice thing about the Academy of Model Aeronautics is they sort of demonstrate what it possible. And, and it’s very exciting to really see it. And I never expected to get that phone call, and I’m really glad I did. I think Joe would say and I would agree the sky, it’s limitless like the sky – the possibilities are limitless.”