BRIDGETON, Mo. (KMOX/News Release) – Residents living near the landfill where an underground fire threatens nearby nuclear waste, are happy a new federal agency may take over the crisis– one with a reputation for action.

The EPA would hand over jurisdiction on the West Lake landfill to the Army Corps of Engineers , under legislation sponsored by Senator Blunt and Congresswoman Wagner, and co-sponsored by Senator McCaskill and Congressman Clay.

“I just want them to know that we are very thankful,” Karen Nichols of the Just Moms neighborhood group said, “They are putting the thanks in Thanksgiving this year.”

The EPA has come under criticism for its handling of the landfill fire by both residents and members of Congress.

“The EPA’s unacceptable delay in implementing a solution for the West Lake landfill has destroyed its credibility and it’s time to change course,” Senator Blunt said.

Congresswoman Wagner also bemoaned the lack of action by the EPA.

“My constituents in the St. louis region deserve a government where officials work proactively on their behalf, rather than kicking the can down the road with recurring delays and deflections,” Wagner said.

Congressman Clay says he hopes the Army Corps can do something bolder than just covering up the nuclear waste as the EPA has proposed.

“I am totally committed to removing all the nuclear waste from West Lake landfill,” Clay said, “It just makes no sense to allow radioactive waste to remain buried in an unlined landfill, near residential neighborhoods, schools, a hospital, the airport and the Missouri River.”

McCaskill says the bill to transfer authority for the landfill comes after a long saga of community outrage.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that they want the West Lake site transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers’ program that oversees all other sites in St. Louis containing this World War II era nuclear waste,” McCaskill said. “This legislation is not a silver bullet, and will take far longer than we’d like to resolve the many issues surrounding this site, but this is a step forward in a process that’s been stagnant for far too long.”

Neighborhood activist Dawn Chapman of the Just Moms group says the Army Corps has a reputation for getting things done.

“The Army Corps comes in and they have their own funding to do what needs to be done,” Chapman said, “the testing and to make the decision of what should happen at this site. EPA has to order the responsible parties to do that testing under Superfund, which takes a long time.”

Chapman expects some members of the community will be called to testify before a congressional committee hearing in Washington about their anxiety over the fire and the nuclear waste.

“To have this happen, and have it happen before Thanksgiving, it feels really good,” Chapman said.

KMOX previously reported:

Sen. Roy Blunt (R) and Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R) introduced legislation Thursday to appoint the Army Corps of Engineers as the lead jurisdictional agency to handle the unauthorized dumping of radioactive wastes at the West Lake Landfill in 1973.

Co-sponsoring the legislation is Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Congressman Lacy Clay (D).

Residents living around the burning Bridgeton landfill, and the nearby nuclear waste, are happy to hear the EPA may be forced to step aside.

Reaction from Karen Nichols of the Just Moms neighborhood group:

“I just want them to know that we are very thankful,” she says. “They are putting the ‘thanks’ in Thanksgiving this year.”

Many residents have complained the EPA is moving too slowly to put out the underground fire and remove the radioactive waste.

“It’s thanks to our federally elected officials that the Corps of Engineers is already involved at the West Lake Landfill in a support role,” said Ed Smith, with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “The Corps already has site familiarity that should lead to a smooth transition of jurisdiction if the bipartisan legislation becomes law.”

The Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 took over jurisdiction of the radioactive wastes at the West Lake Landfill in 1990. It took the EPA until 2008 to decide it would cap-and-leave the radioactive wastes forever at the unlined landfill.

Public and political backlash to the decision led the EPA to reopen and reconsider its cap-and-leave decision in 2010. The EPA’s re-evaluation process is ongoing, and it announced earlier this year that a proposed remedy would be announced before the end of 2016.

Related story: St. Louis County Releases Disaster Plan for West Lake Landfill

The Corps of Engineers cannot put forth its own independent decision at West Lake if it is put in charge after the EPA’s forthcoming decision is finalized.

The following EPA Region 7 issues were shared with Missouri federally elected officials among others:

1. EPA Region 7 was notified of a surface fire at the West Lake Landfill in 1995 yet it never considered a fire a threat to the radioactive materials in its 2008 decision to cap-and-leave the radioactive wastes forever.
2. EPA Region 7 told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2001 that it would utilize a cap-and-leave decision at West Lake even though that decision was not made public until 2006.

(TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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