by Robin Kemp
6:26 p.m.: UPDATES with minor edits throughout; ADDS citations for Gillem book used in town hall slideshow
Residents of the Park at Fort Gillem who attended what the city had billed as a “town hall” meeting with the city attorney and lawyers for apartment management say they are happy with their community–but need more information on three pressing questions:
- Will they have to move?
- If so, when?
- Are they being exposed to toxic substances from the former Fort Gillem?
City officials were reluctant to get into details at the meeting, but the answers they gave residents boiled down to “maybe,” “that depends,” and “we don’t know.”
On the roster
Running the meeting was the Urban Redevelopment Authority Board’s recently-hired public relations contractor, Michael Hightower, the former College Park city councilman and Fulton County commissioner who in 2000 pleaded guilty to accepting $25,000 in bribes from Sable Communications’ George Greene.
Hightower, a well-connected donor to several big politicians in Clayton County and elsewhere, was sentenced to six months at a federal minimum-security prison in Pensacola, then made his comeback with The Collaborative Firm and the annual South Metro Development Outlook Conference.
The URA voted to hire Hightower when, as the only one of four prospects who was present for the meeting, he gave a pitch. (At least two competitors said they were angry that no one had told them of the meeting or they also would have pitched the board.) Although Hightower was the low bidder on the project, staff had recommended Leff and Associates, which had done crisis PR work for the city before.
Also present at this unofficial “town hall” were several local, county, and state officials: Mayor Angelyne Butler, who Hightower said was there in her capacity as URA chair, along with City Attorney Mike Williams, City Manager Dr. Marc-Antoine Cooper, Economic Development Director Bruce Abraham, URA Board members Eliot Lawrence and Nachaé Jones, City Councilmembers Héctor Gutierrez (in whose ward the apartments are) and Kimberly James, State Rep. Kim Schofield, and Development Authority of Clayton County Board Chair Regina Deloach. SaVaughn Irons, a planner with The Collaborative Firm, handed out comment cards to about 15 residents of the complex who were present in chambers, with others dialing in via Zoom. Some people on the Zoom call posted comments that they could not hear the questions and didn’t see a way to ask their own questions. Other residents trickled in after the meeting started. Community organizer Lawanda Folami, a longtime advocate for the complex’s residents, also showed up.
“Tonight’s purpose is to be about an hour-long meeting,” Hightower said. “We have a very brief agenda. But it also includes and involves and provides a mechanism for you to give comments and feedback, as well.”
He added that Gutierrez and Butler were “not officially here as members of the city council, because the city has not, Dr. Cooper, you reminded me, has not dealt with this issue. This is really for the URA, so thank you sir, and hopefully this’ll be helpful. Thank you for joining, and he cares about his district, as well.”
Hightower said he would provide “some opening remarks and kind of like, frame the evening,” that Butler would “provide some historical context and some welcoming context,” and that neither Butler nor Gutierrez had been in office when the process of buying Fort Gillem had started.
“But they are now trying to make sure that, as they provide leadership to this city, they do the best job they can, as it relates to ensuring that things are done and they care about this community,” he said.
In addition, Hightower said there would be a public input period. “If some of you want to say it verbally, you’re welcome to, but also have a comment card, so we can kind of hear your comments. So this is about you.”
The next meeting, which Hightower said would be “one in a series,” is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, August 4.
“This community goes back to the 1940s,” he said. “I’m a native of Atlanta, a native of College Park. My wife used to be a reservist at Fort Gillem, so I used to drop her off and wait on her where sometimes she felt like she didn’t want to drive, so I’m very familiar with Fort Gillem.” He joked about drinking “water” in the officer’s club.
Hightower repeatedly emphasized the city’s message, “We Care” and invited those present to sign in and provide contact information. “And being from College Park, I was born closer to Fort McPherson. They’re both part of Third Army, and at that time, many of you may remember General Colin Powell. He presided over both of the bases.”
(Powell was there for a few months before President George H. W. Bush named him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 1, 1989; President Ronald Reagan nominated Powell, who was head of FORSCOM and Reagan’s National Security advisor in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal.)
“So tonight, it’s about ‘we care.’ ‘We, Forest Park, care.’ So let’s keep that in the back of your mind. That’s why we’re here,” Hightower said.
He said the purpose of the meeting was “to give you a perspective of where we are and where do we go from here? What are the options after tonight? Now I’ve visited that community as late as yesterday and a couple of times last week, so I know exactly where you are, and I’ve been in there before.”
He handed off the podium to Butler to give “kind of a historical timeline.”
Show and tell
Butler presented a brief slide show, bearing the name of former City Clerk Sharee Steed and based largely on Supply and Demand: A History of Fort Gillem, which was prepared through a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile, AL and written by Jennifer Corcoran of Brockington and Associates, Inc.
- A mention of General Alvin Gillem, who developed the Pentagon’s plan to integrate the military and for whom the base is named;
- a quick explanation of Wherry housing, which are the buildings in the 125-unit apartment complex (“in 1957, the rent from $67.50 to $100 per month, which I thought was an interesting fact”), taken almost verbatim from pp. 123-4;
- a passage that repeated, almost verbatim, passages from the Army’s remediation efforts in 1980 under Col. Woliver (“Because Fort Gillem had an industrial activity, there was, the inevitable was that environmental issues would arise with more stringent regulations. As such, remediation efforts began as early as 1980 when the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency provided a water analysis and the installation of groundwater wells at Fort Gillem. Subsequently, the Army provided an environmental assessment report for Fort Gillem in 1983” [compare p. 119]. Substantial upgrades to infrastructure and buildings included a 1986 upgrade to the natural gas system and replacement of gas lines. A renovation initiative was created for several buildings, and those that were not able to be spared were demolished, and this was typically because of maintenance problems or because their function was no longer needed, and they were not easily converted to an alternative use.” [compare p. 122])
The “timeline” ended with a quick mention of the previous URA board, which was ultimately disbanded after refusing to approve Butler’s request for a combined police and fire station, then a slide featuring headshots of the current URA board members.
What it didn’t mention from that part of the source material was this passage:
“In the decades that followed the introduction of NEPA, several incidents were reported at various locations around the installation. One of the most significant of these occurred on March 22, 1976, when observers reported yellow smoke rushing 50-60 feet in the air in an area between the post boundary and Flankers Gate. It was discovered that the smoke was coming from an area formerly used as a burial pit for 55-gallon drums of chemicals and hazardous waste….After testing, it was revealed that the smoke contained cyanide, chlorides, and iodine. One week later, after consultations between the Army, local officials, and the [Georgia] Environmental Protection Division, the conclusion was reached that the waste would be neutralized, removed, and transferred to a landfill.”
Nor did these events from the book make the timeline:
- February 9, 1981: about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel from a leaking line killed fish in Stephens Lake. Fishing was “suspended until further notice.”
- 1981: Water wells in the area were monitored, capped, and locked. (The book frames this as one of several “general environmental initiatives.”)
- “Also around this time, personnel complained about the quality of the water in the area around Building 403, in the northeastern section of the installation. A strange tase and odor was reported, and an iron reducing bacteria was thought to be the cause of the problem.”
According to the Army’s book, Fort Gillem has been loving the planet since the 1970s: “Earth Day, first held in 1970, is a national day of focus on environmental awareness. The Army participates in this observance annually, and uses it as an occasion to promote environmental stewardship. The Army’s Earth Day theme in recent years has been ‘Sustaining the environment for a secure future.’ Fort Gillem has used Earth Day events to educate people on issues such as recycling, litter prevention, protecting waterways, and reducing air pollution. Popular events at the post have included hazardous household waste disposals and electronic waste recycling” [p. 121].
It also devotes a few paragraphs to the apartment complex, which, the Army’s book says, “was in a state of disrepair” by 1980, so “the Army considered closing the apartments. Col. C.H. Woliver, Fort McPherson’s commander, held meetings with residents to discuss plans and respond to their questions.” The author does not explain what those questions were. However, it notes that, in 1990, “the residential community opposed an Army proposal to sell the land and detach Holland Park from the installation.” At that point, “The Army deemed the property no longer essential to the mission of the base and wanted to exclude the land from the installation.” Residents also had maintenance concerns and were worried about police and fire protection that Fort Gillem had provided up to that point. “During these proceedings the Army closed Holland Park Drive, which had previously connected the housing area to the installation.”
Abut 1998, according to the book, the current apartment management company, Reliant Development Group, “took over managing the property” and installed new plumbing, wiring, HVAC, cabinetry, fixtures, appliances, and lighting, to the tune of $10,000 per unit. The book notes, “Better maintenance and security measures were reportedly implemented and conditions were much improved.”
Hightower then opened the floor to speakers. Nearly all said they were happy with where they lived and with the responsiveness of management to their maintenance concerns.
Some said they wanted to know more about possible exposure to groundwater and soil contamination originating on the base. At least two said they could count on neighbors or management to lock their doors should they forget to do so, and that the owners, Phillip and Paul Kennon, patrolled the complex in the wee hours and “ran the riff-raff out” when they took over.
Other residents said they did have some concerns. One said that warehouse construction across the fence at Gillem Logistics Center had caused dust to be blown onto their cars and homes. Another said she had two young children and could not afford to live elsewhere but wanted to protect their health. She said she moved to Park at Fort Gillem to escape gunfire in her old neighborhood.
Listen to the meeting
Mayor: Clayton Crescent incited fear among residents
At one point, Butler took the microphone, telling the audience that The Clayton Crescent had spread misinformation. Butler stated that The Clayton Crescent had linked a story about a pending public comment period on FTG-01 (the Northwest site) with resident concerns about dirty water backing up through inside drains and dishwashers and whether their drinking water might be affected. Butler frequently takes swipes from the dais at The Clayton Crescent’s press coverage, and the city has battled with the site’s legal representatives over Open Records requests, Kemp’s illegal ejection from three City Council meetings, and providing livestream coverage of council meetings the mayor unilaterally declared “closed to the public” last year during the COVID-19 emergency. (Kemp has been the only reporter to provide regular coverage of city matters for the past three years–two with the Clayton News, one with The Clayton Crescent.)
“So we’re here because there was an article that was written,” Butler said. “By Ms. Kemp. The article tied in a cleanup that was done in the northwest corner of Fort Gillem to where you guys reside in the southeastern portion of Fort Gillem. [Ed. note: Butler conflated two different articles, one of which discussed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ call for public comment on FTG-01, and a subsequent interview with residents who had contacted The Clayton Crescent with concerns about maintenance issues and whether groundwater issues at FTG-01 had impacted their drinking water. That article included confirmation from CCWA spokesperson Suzanne Brown that the apartments get county water but are on a private sewer system.] Naturally, the way the article was written, there’s some information that was misconstrued. So, some people that are here tonight have some concerns, which I get, because of the information that they read.”
She continued, “As a result, we had a town hall meeting, Councilman Gutierrez and myself went out there. [Ed. note: Gutierrez had first met with the residents because they live in his district and, at that time, he said he would set up a town hall meeting with Forest Park Code Enforcement to address their concerns.] We had people from the [Clayton County] Water Authority on, we had Mike Monteleone who is part of the Oasis Environmental Group that has been at Fort Gillem since all of this started [when] the city purchased it, and some other environmental-type experts on a part of that meeting.”
“Out of that, some residents expressed some other concerns, which prompted us to figure out what is going on, and how can we remedy it. So, again, the article itself was blown up. So I don’t–I hate that you guys are kind of in, in fear? But even from the information that we received at that initial town hall meeting and what we’re hearing today, it’s polar opposite. So we’re trying to figure out, how do we act, as a board and as a municipality, to be responsible to the residents, to you all, and also to, to the city?”
Butler continued: “Because if what was said was true, something has to be done. And so you guys want to know what is it that could be done. And that’s why we’re trying to hear from you to figure it out. Because we have not had an environmental study done, and I know I’m not supposed to go there, but, if we do that study, when we do that study, if something comes back that is unsatisfactory to you and your children and whomever else, then we have to act. You may not like it. But you cannot live in a hazardous situation. And that’s where we are.”
Butler did not specify what was said nor who had said it.
Hightower then said it was almost 7 p.m. and repeatedly prompted the crowd to turn in their comment sheets.: “The comment sheets are so important from a communication standpoint,” he said. “By a show of hands, by a show of hands–and Robin, thank you for being here.”
Kemp said, “I’d be happy to answer anybody’s questions. The mayor has a thing about my journalism in general, so I just want to say, if you have a question, I’m happy to answer it. The article she’s referencing is about one of a series of articles about what is going on at that base. And what it did, it reported these people’s questions. And these people had questions after they read the first article, which had nothing to do with the apartments.”
Hightower again called for comment sheets from the audience.
“Three things are very important,” he said. “And I’m glad Representative Schofield is here, because you know what Ms. Butler just said and I brought her as URA chair. EJ, EJ, environmental justice is a very important title in our federal government and environmental justice is important. And to have local folk who you select and elect, who take this seriously–you know, most places don’t have that. But let me just–environmental justice is extremely important. Ms. Schofield, you know what I’m taking about. EJ is extremely important. So I think it’s commendable. And this is not about Robin. It’s much bigger than Robin’s paper. Environmental justice. And you have a government that includes Mr. Gutierrez and Ms. Jones [James] and others who take that serious, So I think you ought to commend them on that. Most places wouldn’t even listen but they listened to what those things that are out there. That’s the primary point. And finally I want to say this. On August the fourth, we’re gonna come back to some things we didn’t answer tonight, we are gonna answer. Because A-number-one, we listen. The City of Forest Park listens. The city listened. And Robin, if you have something, bring it to us, too. It would help with this particular site.”
Kemp responded that anyone could go to claytoncrescent.org and search “Gillem” to pull up that information (scroll down to the bottom of this story for direct links to previous stories on contamination at and near the base).
Hightower crosstalked over that information. “As responsible citizens, as responsible media, as responsible electeds, let’s do right,” he said.
JoAnn Thomas said, “My sister who could not be here today, just got out of the hospital , they live in the very back. Question to Mayor Butler and to Mr, Williams, [city] manager [Cooper], and yourself. Why wasn’t there a wall built back there to keep all that stuff from coming over? I have been to my sister’s house, who lives in the very back. All that stuff just comes down on you Why did not the City of Forest Park–“
“Back in the day,” Hightower interjected.
“No,” Thomas replied, “Recently. Now. Put a wall up. Put a barrier. My brother-in-law has dementia. They had during the COVID, he had to come home from the VA nursing home. He jumped. This scares him–“
Hightower said he’d put that question down for the next “town hall” meeting.
Fort Gillem’s history: more visual aids
In addition to the FTG-01 site, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the Southeast Burial Site, which is just southwest of the old base housing. Numerous news reports and documentation record the Army’s efforts to try to mitigate contamination from sites on the base that have contaminated the soil and seeped through groundwater plumes under nearby homes. At one point, the Army installed indoor air monitoring for toxic vapor intrusion at a daycare down the street from the apartments.
The meeting did not include this video by The KIMM Group (Kresston Davis, Inge Beeker, Matt Hearn, and Michael Simelton), touting a residential project called The MEWS at Fort Gillem and a job training partnership with Atlanta Technical College on the former military base. A check of Georgia business filings returned nothing for “The KIMM Group.” The video, which contains a reference to the Army owning the property until 2011, was posted to YouTube two months ago. It’s not clear from the video whether this proposed project will be happening or has been scuttled. Early plans for Fort Gillem had included senior housing, recreation areas, and other public amenities:
The meeting also did not show attendees this story from Fox 5 Atlanta, about toxic pollution on surrounding properties, posted to YouTube by the Bell Legal Group.
The firm represents people allegedly affected by water pollution at Camp Lejeune, S.C., calling it “one of the worst water contamination cases in history.” In that case, the firm says, people who worked on or lived near the base may have been exposed to tricholoroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene–all chemicals that also are found on and near Fort Gillem. Here, the Army paid to shut down nearby residents’ wells and put them on county water. Both bases have groundwater and soil contamination.
“Scientific studies show that some or all of these chemical compounds have breached the ground water supply on several of our US Military Bases and in some instances, have affected civilian properties adjacent to the bases including churches, schools, and private wells,” Bell Law Firm wrote of Camp Lejeune. “Currently, on-going research is being conducted on military bases around the country and on properties directly adjacent to these bases to identify just how widespread this contamination may be.”
The firm has posted several videos of national news reports about Camp Lejeune’s pollution and people who say they or their loved ones developed cancer and other serious health conditions as a result of being exposed to base toxins. While the Park at Fort Gillem gets its drinking water from Clayton County Water Authority, Camp Lejeune depended on contaminated wells for bathing and drinking. The apartment complex is also on a private sewer, the responsibility for which the Army made sure to wash its hands of when it modified the land lease.
In the video, Georgia EPD’s Bert Langley told Fox 5 News’ Nicole Estaphan, “All the hydrologists were telling us, ‘Well, it’s not gonna move in the groundwater much, and it’s gonna move very slowly,’ and they were all wrong. It moves many times faster than the science at that time said it would.”
According to the story, the Army first knew the groundwater was polluted in 1992. In 2002, the Army found contamination in a well “just feet from the base.” In August 2014, test results showed the air inside nearby homes had been contaminated. Displeased with the Army’s response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Army on Sept. 24, 2014 to get with the program and mitigate the problem. When Estaphan did the story in November 2014, she reported, “Two months later, residents here are still waiting.”
One family’s loss: The Hanies of Joy Lake
One of those residents, Frank P. Hanie, was featured in the story. He had recently lost his wife, Myra, to ovarian cancer. Their Joy Lake home was in the 2200 block of First Avenue in Morrow. Hanie was one of the residents who got letters from Georgia EPD about toxic chemicals that had been detected in his home. At least nine homes were found to have been contaminated.
On September 24, 2014, for the first time ever, the EPA sent the Army an “Imminent and Substantial Danger” order, demanding that the Army remediate its vapor intrusion issues on the double. (This is when the Army also had to test all nearby wells and springs for toxic contamination. In 2001, the Army had paid for “connections to the municipal water system to residents near the south boundary of the Facility, east and west of Joy Lake.”)
You can read a timeline of events in that 28-page order.
“I think my home is considered a Level Two, which is going to require mitigation, and will require a venting system,” Hanie told Fox 5 News two months later. “I’m at the mercy of the United States government.”
Hanie had served that government in the U.S. Army.
Hanie’s Facebook page shows he served in the Army in reconnaissance and intelligence from 1968 to 1970: “Entered FT. Benning ga. May 10th 1968. Trained for Vietnam, orders pulled in flight. Worked. Served my time at 2nd squadron, 2dn armored cav, Bamberg Germany.”
Frank Phillip Hanie getting his licks in, August 2, 2014, one month before the Environmental Protection Agency issued an unprecedented demand letter to the U.S. Army to clean up Fort Gillem. (Photo: Facebook)
A big fan of Deep Purple, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Beatles, the Doobie Brothers, Steppenwolf, John Mayall, and Blind Willie Johnson, Hanie posted a photo of himself playing a Fender guitar next to a stack of Marshall amps on his Facebook page on August 2, 2014. He told a friend, “Hey Johnny, looking well, not doing so good myself, lost my dear wife of forty years, also found out my home is toxic, thanks to Ft. Gillem.” He also told his sister-in-law, “in my head I’m just 37. In my years I’m 67, but in my body I feel like 77. Getting old is a bunch of crap. Lol.”
A photo of Myra Hanie, who lived on First Avenue in Morrow’s Joy Lake neighborhood, next to the Southeast Burial Site. Hanie died of ovarian cancer in 2014. (Photo: Facebook)
On Valentine’s Day of that year, he had posted a photo of his late wife, with the caption “In Memory of Myra, February 14, 2014, Wife. Married for forty happy years, lost her battle with ovarian cancer. If ever two where one then surely we.” FindAGrave notes her date of death as February 15, 2014 and that Myra was cremated.
The Clayton Crescent could not track down Phil Hanie for this story. County real estate records show another family now owns the Hanies’ former home, just across from the Park at Fort Gillem.
In between lies the Fort Gillem Southeast Burial Site, which the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has rated as the most toxic site in Clayton County.
Southeast Burial Site: the mess next door
The Southeast Burial Site, or sites, according to the EPA’s order, include FTG-02, FTG-07, FTG-08, FTG-09, and FTG-10. The EPA said the site stretches from First Street and Boundary Road east to Moreland Avenue, referring to an Appendix A that does not appear on the linked copy of the order. FTG-09 is where the locally-legendary German mustard gas bomb was found: “a demilitarized leaking 500-kilogram, German-made, mustard filled aerial bomb (WWII era). ‘Mustard’ refers to a chemical weapon compound.” [That’s 1102.31 pounds, or more than half a ton.] The Army had to decontaminate the area where the bomb was, and they used “chlorine compounds and 1,1,2,2-tetrachlorethane, [which] are believed to be the primary source of the soil, soil gas and groundwater contamination on- and off-site.” The site is “approximately 50 feet north of the former Fort Gillem boundary fenceline, near 2nd Street and Boundary Road. The resulting groundwater plume has migrated off-site, under the residential area west of Joy Lake and south of the Site boundary, and extends in a south/east direction beyond Forest Parkway.”
The EPA order notes that the FTG-09 site across from to the Park at Fort Gillem, as well as the FTG-01 site in the northwest corner of the base, at that time, contained “[r]elatively large contaminated groundwater plumes with maximum concentrations exceeding 100 times the maximum contaminant level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act….TCE [trichloroethane] and other contaminants in ground water have migrated beyond the Site boundary from the FTG-04, FTG-07, FTG-10, and FTG-13 areas into the adjoining residential neighborhoods.”
As for where it was headed in 2014, “The down-gradient extent of the plume is under investigation by the Army….[it] discharges to Joy Lake and unnamed tributary to Upton Creek and Upton Creek.”
FTG-07 was mapped from at least the north side of Joy Lake, across Boundary Road, across and to the east of Stephens Lake, and across Z Road. Between that yellow boundary line and Holland Park Drive is a tree line, new warehouse construction, a couple of retaining ponds that appear to be FTG-02 (based on a map by CB&I Federal Services LLC), another narrower tree line. All along that tree line on the warehouse side are numbered signs with dirt roads into the woods.
On the other side of those trees is the Park at Fort Gillem Apartments. The question is whether contaminated soil or groundwater have reached the community. No one at Wednesday’s meeting offered a definitive answer. But the boundary of the FTG-07 site is within 2,000 feet of the complex, based on this map:
Another site, FTG-02 is south of the apartments, FTG-07, the largest area, is west of the apartments on the other side of the new warehouses. FTG-10 is just northwest of FTG-07. FTG-09 is just west of FTG-07, northwest of Joy Lake and just inside the base, but the contamination from various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) extends across Forest Parkway and Joy Lake Road in this map:
This map of FTG-07 shows contamination in both Joy lake and Stephens Lake:
All the maps of the southeast side of the base show Park at Fort Gillem inside the boundary line.
None of them are up to the minute.
Was Holland Park tested or not?
Another place where residents might find information about recent testing near them is the Fort Gillem Remediation Facebook page, which features upbeat updates about vapor intrusion testing in the area–such as this one dated April 5: “Good evening everyone—we have completed our groundwater sampling in the Morrow neighborhood south of Fort Gillem. You guys are always great to work with and let us get our work completed safely. Thank you so much! Hope you guys stay safe and have a great week.”
A related Twitter account hasn’t posted anything since 2018.
City officials did not respond to repeated requests since the meeting for clarification on whether Park at Fort Gillem residents would be forced to move, nor to whether they have been exposed to any of the contamination–whether in the soil, the air, or the groundwater–emanating from the base.
One other question that residents brought up was whether anyone had done testing on the apartment property itself. Jim Fineis of Atlas Geo-Sampling Company gave a PowerPoint presentation at the 2016 Georgia Environmental Conference in Jekyll Island. A map in that presentation shows members of the Vapor Intrusion Study Team drove about 60 miles during testing in the area in 2014. At least two of those stops appear to have been made at the complex:
Finies told The Clayton Crescent that he didn’t remember whether he had taken any samples at the apartment complex. He said the dots on the map indicate stops, but don’t necessarily indicate where any samples might have been taken. To eliminate any possible bias in the sampling, Finies said, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed him where to go, he would take samples, and then the samples would be handed off to someone else to analyze.
“If the residents weren’t getting contacted,” he said, “it’s highly unlikely that the samples were collected. That’s just how the process worked.”
Coordinating the vapor intrusion study process for the Corps of Engineers was Wenck, a contractor that does environmental remediation and investigation. According to the company’s website, Wenck set up the Facebook page and Twitter account and held meetings to tell residents about the study and its results:
“Wenck prepared and implemented a Vapor Intrusion Study Work Plan (VI WP), a Community Involvement Plan (CIP), and a Response Action Plan. As part of the CIP, Wenck prepared a community mailing list and distributed community mailers and fact sheets throughout the VI Study. At the beginning of the project, Wenck created a Fort Gillem VI Study Facebook page, Twitter account, email account, and telephone hotline to provide updates on scheduling and sampling efforts through multiple forums throughout the study. Wenck also held six public meetings during the course of the study to educate the public on what VI is and the scope of the Fort Gillem VI study as well as communicate results to residents participating in the VI Study.”
Finies’ presentation noted one challenge of the two-year study was its high-profile nature: “intense local media coverage (ABC, CBS, Fox and CNN), daily updates being sent to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., non-EPD interest within the state of Georgia government”–particularly from then-Governor Nathan Deal.
It also emphasized the importance of letting residents know what was going on.
Whether or not the apartments have been tested before, it’s not clear who would pay for testing now. City Attorney Mike Williams told residents “The URA owns the dirt,” but did not specify whether the URA already had taken possession of the land from the Army, whose lease was set to run out in 2024 and which would have to remediate any contamination before the city could take possession of it. And the Army made it clear when it amended the property lease in the ’90s that it would not be responsible for any possible ill effects of the contamination that it had caused.
In a 762-page report on closing down Fort McPherson, and, by extension, Fort Gillem, the Army reiterated that any future issues about toxic contamination would be the future owners’ problem.
In 2017, Bell Law Firm said, the U.S. government began paying out $2.2 billion to veterans (not to their families nor to civilians) “who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejuene between August 1953 [and] December 1987. In total, the payout will come to $2.2 billion, covering just eight of some 30 documented diseases or illnesses related to the contamination. These illnesses include: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease.” At present, the Veterans Administration says family members can get disability coverage of 15 illnesses related to the contamination there.
No such option exists for those who served at Fort Gillem, some of whom live in the apartments.
We’ll continue to pass along what we learn as the story unfolds.
We’d also like to hear from you if you live in or near any of the areas affected by Fort GIllem’s hazardous sites.
Catch up on all The Clayton Crescent’s coverage on the Fort Gillem contamination issue, which also contains useful resources like maps we made, links to descriptions of different chemicals and heavy metals and what conditions they can cause, and dates of significant events from 1979 to the present:
- “Clayton County’s 7 most toxic sites”, June 30, 2021 (includes Google map of site locations)
- “Forest Park to hold Gillem tenants ‘town hall’ Wed. June 30 at 6 p.m.”, June 29, 2021
- “Your Monday morning roundup for June 28, 2021”, June 28, 2021
- “Army deadline for public comment on FTG-01 today,” March 26, 2021
- “Forest Park to hold Ft. Gillem environmental meeting 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 24”, March 24, 2021
- “Gillem FTG-01 questions: An alternative?”, March 23, 2021
- “Toxic base last straw for Park at Fort Gillem residents,” March 18, 2021
- “March 26 deadline for Conley, Forest Park, Ellenwood residents to comment on Gillem toxic site cleanup,” March 11, 2021