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Kingston site safe ... or is it?

KINGSTON — It depends on what one’s definition of “safe” is.

While Environmental Protection Agency officials say that while they’ve found no reason to continue investigating Kingston’s decommissioned Nike missile site, they also can’t comment on if the site is acceptable — or safe — for a high school.

“My message to you ... is that we will take no further action on this site,” said the EPA’s Site Assessment Manager Denise Baker, at a meeting in Kingston Thursday. “...There are very low levels of contamination out there.”

But when asked whether or not the site is safe for a school, Baker could not give a definitive answer.

“I cannot say with certainty this site is clean,” she said, leading many in the approximately 30-member audience to continue to this line of questioning.

“There’s a misunderstanding in this community that you’d wave a magic wand and say it’s safe,” said Bim Prince of Kingston.

EPA officials responded that they conducted what is called a Preliminary Assessment/Site Investigation (PA/SI), which they confirmed did not turn up any red flags to warrant further investigation — but that its job was never to answer the question if the site is safe for a high school to be built nearby.

“It was never our job to appropriate land use in the Kingston area,” Baker said. “Our review has nothing to do with what the school district does.”

For the EPA to answer that question, they’d have to conduct a “Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study,” but Baker confirmed the EPA would not be doing so at site.

However, another government organization will begin an investigation of its own. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) through the Washington Department of Health will conduct a “health consultation” based on the EPA’s findings as well as any community members willing to come forward who believe their health has been affected by the former missile site or other means. Several ATSDR and Department of Health officials were on hand at the July 29 meeting and distributed a questionnaire to seek out those who’d be willing to help gather information.

The time line for the DOH’s study is to have all concerns brought forth by Aug. 12 and then conduct an 8-12 week investigation.

That would mean their investigation would be completed by as soon as the week of Oct. 4-8 or as late as the week of Nov. 1-5.

Ken Lassessen, a site neighbor who has been active in an e-mail question-and-answer dialogue with the EPA over the past week, asked if Spectrum Community School students would be tested by the DOH in its study. Spectrum is located on the former No. 92 missile site and in one its its original buildings. The DOH confirmed, through Director of Environmental Health Assessments Robert Duff, that they would look into the matter.

As for the EPA, officials said they conducted three data reviews of its samples at the site and “spent three times as much money” on the site review, with Baker adding she’d spent more time on the Kingston project than all other EPA projects she worked on during the last six months.

Still, new concerns have surfaced, Baker said, through Lassessen’s e-mails, including the possible use of nuclear warheads during the site’s use of Nike-Hercules missiles. If that is the case, Baker said the EPA would attempt to re-test the data samples they collected on site for nuclear waste.

County implications?

Also present at the meeting was Rick Kimball, Environmental Review Manager for Kitsap County. His organization plays a crucial role in the process of building a school as his office, the Department of Community Development, will be asked to approve the key permits the North Kitsap School District needs to build a high school at the West Kingston site.

Kimball stated there had been no appeals to the district’s approval for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) at the Kingston High School site at this point. The CUP, which will allow smaller permits for logging and grading of the site, will close for all appeals Aug. 4.

“If there is no appeal, those permits will be issued,” Kimball said, adding the county hearing examiner had already approved the CUP.

But he did add that several new concerns — among them the possible use of nuclear warheads at the site as well as the DOH’s Health Consultation — would be considered for later county permit issuances the district needs to build the high school on the site.

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