By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Superfund was created to clean up toxic messes. Robert J. Martin's job is to clean up Superfund's messes.
For now, though, he's just a fly on the wall.
In a meeting room in the Commerce City town hall, Martin stays to the back, leans, paces, whispers something into his investigator's ear. In a faceoff scheduled for two hours that has already dragged on for four, irate citizens are pelting local Environmental Protection Agency officials with polite but pointed questions about the agency's work at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, an ugly polluted site just northeast of Denver. Martin doesn't say a word, just tries to blend in with the furniture. Still, it's impossible to forget he's the most powerful man in the room.
Martin is the EPA's national ombudsman for its Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, the department concerned with land-based pollution. Six years into the role, he's developed a reputation for fairness, diplomacy and a serenely ruthless determination to get to the bottom of the EPA's most notorious quagmires. In the process, Martin has launched investigations, alerted the FBI to possible criminal chicanery and orchestrated peace talks between the EPA and angry taxpayers. His enigmatic bearing inspires awe in the citizens' groups that--frustrated by and distrustful of the same federal agency that signs Martin's paycheck--have recruited him to their communities to find out if the EPA is doing its job.
Denver is seeing a lot of Martin these days. The ombudsman is investigating two highly contentious local sites: Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA), where the U.S. Army manufactured nerve gas and other chemical weapons during World War II and where Shell Oil later produced toxic pesticides; and Shattuck, a radioactive waste pile buried smack-dab in a working-class residential area. He's also ordered a preliminary investigation into the EPA's plan to use sludge from the former Lowry Landfill as farm fertilizer and has been asked by an ombudsman from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to look into cleanup efforts at Air Force Plant PJKS near Waterton Canyon, where rocket-engine testing left a legacy of hydrazine and other chemical pollutants.
"I'm getting really busy now in Colorado," says Martin, in typically understated fashion.
Born in Washington State, Martin is a member of the Makah Indian tribe, which has been in the news recently for its attempts to resume traditional whale hunting in the Pacific. With a father in New York City, "I grew up on both coasts," he says. Martin studied political science at Gordon College in Massachusetts and holds a law degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In the 1980s he ran the D.C. office of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, a coalition of tribes that own fuel-rich lands, and provided legal representation for Indians on environmental issues. More recently, he ran his own cleanup firm, Nootka Environmental Systems. Today the father of three works out of a narrow office in EPA headquarters in downtown Washington--when he's not on the road.
Like the straight man and his sidekick, Martin and his jovial EPA investigator, Hugh B. Kaufman, jet around the country to meet with the EPA's regional top brass, conduct hearings and occasionally go door-to-door to talk with neighbors living closest to the EPA's most controversial cleanups. When Jack Unruh and other members of Clean-It!, the Shattuck-area residents' group, met Martin and Kaufman for the first time, "it was the most satisfying bit of live theater I've been involved in for a long time," says Unruh. Martin arrived for the meeting wearing his trademark black ponytail and appearing "a little rumpled, like he'd been involved in some airline travel," Unruh adds. Kaufman, on the other hand, "pretty much looked impeccable" with his close-cropped silver beard, Brooks Brothers suspenders, gleaming rings and tie clip. "A Beltway-lawyer kind of guy," says Unruh, "and then he dips into a little chaw."
Kaufman, never far from his brown tin of Copenhagen chewing tobacco, is a loquacious quote machine. The senior engineer and principal investigator has been with EPA since the agency was founded by Congress 29 years ago. A co-author of the EPA's landmark waste-disposal laws, Kaufman blew the whistle on his own agency in the Carter years when he testified before Congress regarding Love Canal, and later blew the cover on Reagan administration efforts to dismantle the Superfund program. (EPA assistant administrator Rita Lavelle had him tailed by investigators; after she lied to a congressional committee about it, she was promptly canned.) For years Kaufman volunteered his off-duty hours to little communities fighting big environmental problems. Now he works with Martin at the ombudsman's request--which is to say, most of the time.
Martin doesn't take notes; instead he files the highly complex chemical and administrative details of the country's most disputed waste sites somewhere in his head. As Denver residents run through the history of yet another controversial EPA cleanup, the ombudsman and his colleague occasionally exchange loaded, knowing glances--the kind that say, "Oh, brother."
Every year Martin and his four-person staff field more than 4,000 complaints on their toll-free line. "That doesn't include the mailbags" of letters asking the ombudsman to look into toxic waste sites or EPA cleanup efforts, notes Martin. The office has a modest annual budget of $100,000 to conduct investigations or technical reviews--and "there's no shortage of problems to go around," he adds.
Much of the ombudsman's work focuses on NPL sites, locations so contaminated they've been assigned to the EPA's 1,200-member National Priorities List. (The federal "Superfund"--whose taxing authority expired in 1995--is a trust fund set up to pay for emergency cleanups or abandoned NPL sites where the government, not the long-gone polluter, is forced to pick up the tab.) But the ombudsman's authority "is not limited to NPL or Superfund cases," Kaufman explains. "It can concern anyplace there's contamination of the land and where things may not be working right."
When it comes to regulating businesses that are operating today, the EPA can force waste producers to play by the rules. But its after-the-fact Superfund role is very different. Whenever possible, the federal government tries to get the polluter to clean up a contaminated site; if the EPA has to do the physical work, it will bill the polluter three times its actual cost. Although this system encourages violators to tidy up their own toxic messes, it often means that they, and not the people who live near the Superfund site, call a majority of the shots. The ombudsman position was designed to give the citizen-neighbors a little more say in the matter.
Established by Congress in 1986 as part of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), yet another solid waste cleanup program, the ombudsman's office was made permanent several years later. Martin, who was recruited for the position by an EPA higher-up, is the second person to hold the job.
"The classical model of ombudsman goes back three, four hundred years ago in Sweden, where you had an official who literally would stand between the king and the governed," Martin says. According to that model, the ombudsman "can investigate any complaint that a person brings to them," says Martin. "I have tried to follow that as much as possible.
"A true ombudsman has to be independent. He can't be told not to look into something, not to think that, not to say that--because that stifles the function," he says. "That's really the first hallmark of a classical ombudsman: independence from the entity you've been charged to look at."
Martin's solid-waste jurisdiction covers landfills, waste facilities, underground storage tanks, "a whole host of things," says Kaufman. "Superfund itself is massive. People live on land, which means what EPA does or doesn't do affects substantial numbers of taxpayers and elected officials. It's not just as simple as, say, limiting [emissions from] automobiles or power plants, or limiting discharges down a river. Land is where Mom and Dad and the kids live. And it's because of that that it cries out for a traditional ombudsman."
Although the ombudsman has no actual power, he can order investigations and make recommendations for change that have real clout. While his policy recommendations usually stay with the suits in Washington, Martin sends to the local EPA administrators his "operational" proposals, such as "dig here, put a monitor there, do more sampling, take another look. I'm no scientist," says Martin, "but I can question the weight or the value of the scientific data overall if I think things haven't been done the way I think they should have been done."
As a result of his work, Martin has persuaded the EPA to reverse decisions, reopen cases, shut down incinerators and evacuate entire subdivisions. "Is he beloved and admired within EPA? I would say not," says Joel Hirschhorn, a private environmental consultant who works for grassroots groups across the country and has crossed paths with Martin at a half-dozen Superfund sites. "I would say he's more 'tolerated' within the agency. Let's face it, people with the power in government agencies don't like people like Bob, because their job is to prevent the people in power from doing whatever they want. But does he have influence? Yes."
Martin's first test on the job was in an industrial area just outside Houston, where Monsanto and other chemical companies had dumped wastes for years and a 677-home subdivision had sprung up in the late 1970s. The EPA declared the waste dump a Superfund site in 1983. Marie Flickinger, a local resident with a high school diploma who runs a weekly newspaper called the South Belt-Ellington Leader, pleaded with regional officials for years to look at tumor-plagued dogs and black goo that was seeping up from the driveways of nearby homes. Eleven of the thirteen babies born in the subdivision one year suffered from severe birth defects.
Flickinger and other residents did not like the EPA's planned "remedy" for the site that called for drudging up all the wastes and burning them near the residential area. And so Flickinger lobbied for a visit from the newly appointed ombudsman; at first, when the EPA refused to pay Martin's airfare, she offered a ticket out of her own pocket. She later met Martin and another EPA official at a conference in Dallas. They promised a two-page report on the Brio Superfund site within a week--but the final report actually took three months and numbered more than thirty pages. "They agreed with me on nearly all the issues," says Flickinger.
At this point, the ombudsman officially took the case. Ultimately, the EPA decided to reverse its remedy plan. Flickinger credits Martin with convincing the agency to dismantle the incinerator before it burned a single ounce of toxins. Instead the EPA decided to put a deep cap over the site and build a wall around it; the 677 homes and an $8 million elementary school were razed by the developer and put in a landfill.
"I think he cut his teeth on Brio," Flickinger says of Martin. "I think his eyes were opened to the fact that everything the agency's done is not necessarily for the community.
"Tell your people in Denver these guys are the only hope in the system," Flickinger says. "There is no one else. Where Bob Martin's concerned, he is the purest-hearted person I have ever met in my life besides my father. You cannot have a stronger advocate than that man."
The central California town of McFarland is home to rich cotton, alfalfa and peach-tree fields, hundreds of illiterate farm workers and a well-documented cancer cluster. "We had been told to accept the deaths," says Marta Salinas, a local activist who for sixteen years has tried to draw attention to the area's pesticide-laden waste dumps and farm fields sprayed nine months out of the year.
After the ombudsman heard about McFarland's rate of rampant birth defects, stillbirths and brain tumors in teenagers and young adults, Martin got involved. "He's the first person to really go house-to-house to talk with Mexicanos," says Salinas. "He hugged the kids and told the parents he wished he could have been there from the beginning." Since then, Martin has overridden furious county and regional officials and ordered extensive tests on soil and wells used for drinking water.
The EPA divides its national turf into ten regions; Denver is the headquarters for Region VIII, which covers Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah. Unlike the regions' head honchos, the ombudsman can summon EPA experts from any part of the country to reassess a project. When citizens in Arkansas cried foul about an incinerator burning toxins nearby, Martin called in an incineration expert from Seattle. "And she said yeah, there are problems, and we need standard operating procedures," he says. The ombudsman, citizens and regional staff then sat back down at the table and hammered out a new solution.
Likewise, residents near Times Beach, Missouri, were outraged over an incinerator built there to burn dioxin-contaminated dirt and debris from 27 sites throughout the state. "The technology was supposed to be state-of-the-art, to burn 99.999 percent" of the wastes, says Martin. "But the citizens were concerned that things were not okay."
Activists feared that dioxin, once a common by-product of manufacturing that has been linked to cancer and disorders of the reproductive and immune systems, was being released into the air. Test samples had been lost, misplaced or poorly analyzed, they charged. "There was a history of deception there," says Steve Taylor of the Times Beach Action Group. "We believe there was fraud involved."
"To me, that anecdotal information didn't invalidate the test results, but it took away the weight of credibility," Martin explains. "There was a real trust issue between the community and the [EPA] region." So in December 1996, the ombudsman pulled in a special "emergency response team" to retest the soil. "They did find more dioxin than the region thought was present, but ultimately they didn't find that level of dioxin had a health impact." In other words, the EPA's original test results were not 100 percent accurate--but conditions also were not as bad as citizens feared. "The truth lay somewhere in the middle," Martin says.
By the time those tests were completed, however, the incinerator's work was nearly done. In June 1997, the last wastes were burned at Times Beach. "We only wish that Martin had gotten there sooner," Taylor says.
In the past, complaints made their way to Martin's desk via Carol Browner, the EPA's top official. But increasingly, citizens and legislators are contacting the ombudsman's office directly.
Martin himself selects the sites he wants to investigate, first by dividing complaints into matters and cases. The less-complicated "matters" are usually forwarded to a regional EPA office or resolved in Washington within a few days. "Cases" are far more complex and require an in-depth investigation by the ombudsman himself.
Kaufman calls them "the screamers."
"Right now we probably have about two dozen significant cases, which include Shattuck and RMA," says Martin. "Cases are much more akin to Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where you've got lots of people who've been trying to bring closure to the place for years and years, and obviously they're not even close."
When alerted to a screamer, Martin contacts the regional field office to get the EPA's side of the story. Then he might launch a "preliminary assessment": talking with local residents, looking at the administrative record and conducting hearings. Only after that does he decide whether to open a full-scale investigation.
"It's really a judgment call," says Martin. "Here at RMA, we started out with a preliminary review. I got into it a few months and decided it was a full ombudsman case. It couldn't be anything else."
The heart of the 27-square-mile Rocky Mountain Arsenal has been called "the most polluted square-mile on earth." But it's also an exceptional site because both government and industry are responsible for its pollution. "At most Superfund sites, private companies are the responsible parties," says Martin. "Rare is the site where you've got the Army and Shell Oil working together in such a close fashion." (The EPA is responsible for making sure both parties carry out their promise to clean up the site enough to make it a federal wildlife refuge.) The arsenal is also colossal in size, bordered by booming residential districts, and "so complex," adds Martin. "You have dieldrin, various pesticides, concerns about dioxin, sarin--everything that was used to produce chemical and biological weapons. You don't find that mixture very often on a site."
For years, Denver-area activists have felt they were being stonewalled by regional EPA officials under the sway of cost-conscious Shell, which is paying for a portion of the work. After attorney Sandra Jaquith, a self-appointed arsenal watchdog for over a decade, learned of the ombudsman's existence in late 1996, she and other citizens fired off a series of heated letters to an array of EPA and elected officials, asking them to urge Martin to visit the arsenal. He finally arrived in spring 1998.
"We thought if we could actually tell [Martin] our story, we would get somewhere," says Jaquith, who has developed an obvious respect for the ombudsman. "If after his investigation Bob Martin comes out and tells me there's no problem here, I'll go away."
The ombudsman may have come just in time, says Rick Warner, who's been watching the arsenal project for seven years. As part of the RMA remediation--"cleanup" isn't an accurate word, since the toxins will be buried rather than removed--workers this year plan to tear down some 85 buildings on the property and move half a million cubic yards of dirt, raising plenty of polluted dust in the process, he points out. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is inviting a record 60,000 visitors, many of them children, on-site for its Eagle Fests and nature activities.
Warner hopes that having the ombudsman on board will make some officials think twice about "greenwashing," or portraying the NPL site as a benign wildlife refuge. "Maybe we can give the EPA a way to look at things again," he says.
Before Martin took the arsenal case, regional officials "didn't want to talk to us," says Jaquith. "Now they're all wanting to talk with us."
Martin and Kaufman dropped by Commerce City's town hall the January night that Jaquith, Warner and other citizens gathered to discuss another pressing concern: The EPA's plans to "de-list" 815 acres of the arsenal property, which would essentially declare the land clean enough to be sold to local government. The activists were alarmed by Commerce City's plans to purchase the land for a city park and commercial development--which might include a daycare facility or senior center ("Toxic Wait," February 11).
The residents wanted proof that the EPA had taken enough soil samples to adequately "characterize" the amount of toxins in the dirt and their possible effects on children and the elderly. That night, the EPA presented a blow-by-blow explanation of its sampling methods and "risk assessment," which the citizens promptly shot full of holes. Kaufman asked a few questions of his own; Martin observed.
That meeting was "the first time we all sat down and started talking substance about characterization of the site--how many samples were taken and what kind, where were they from, what detection methods were used, how long ago were they taken, how do they plug into the risk assessment--and that was a really valuable exchange," says Martin.
Characterization is a critical issue at any cleanup site, "because if you're affected by one of these places and you're not confident with the diagnosis, you won't be comfortable with the remedy. Here, for the first time, I think everybody heard each other. I know the region definitely heard Sandy, Rick and the others," he adds. "You went from nowhere to substantive communication and a decision."
The "decision" was that the EPA would table its plan to de-list the parcel until it could conduct further soil studies. A few days later, Martin declared that he will hold formal hearings on the arsenal's remediation in April, complete with a court reporter and testimony under oath.
Now on his third cup of coffee after a long round of meetings with Army and Shell officials, Martin leans forward and quotes seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke: "Every great movement has three stages: Ridicule, opposition, implementation.
"And that's much like an ombudsman case," he says with a chuckle.
Citizens who end up with a Superfund site in their backyard--and an unresponsive federal agency in charge of it--"feel ridiculed," Martin says. "But their problems are real problems, and they feel they've been dismissed. You can move from that kind of environment--almost a non-relationship between the people who feel aggrieved and the people in charge--to maybe opposition, and then to 'All right, now it's an ombudsman case. We'll sit down at the table, we'll talk.'"
In 1992, Denver residents living near the old Shattuck Chemical plant in south Denver were outraged when the EPA reversed its decision to haul 50,000 cubic yards of radioactive soil out of their neighborhood. Instead, the EPA mixed the soil with fly ash and concrete, then surrounded the one-story-high mound with a chain-link fence. "It's the only site in the country where we've left radioactive contaminants in place in a residential setting," says Martin. "That in itself drives an ombudsman review."
But it took considerable effort to get the ombudsman to the site at 1805 South Bannock. Over the years, a group of residents--"a bunch of ragtag amateurs," as Jack Unruh puts it--"have found what we consider some pretty egregious oversights." City and county scientists claim that, despite the EPA's containment efforts, the waste is leaking into the South Platte River; Mayor Wellington Webb has repeatedly insisted that the pile be removed. And last August, Denver voters approved a measure urging that Colorado's congressional representatives look into the EPA's remediation of the site.
Unruh first heard about the ombudsman a year ago from a Sierra Club member "who told me Bob was a good guy to have on your side." In her conversations with Martin regarding the arsenal, Sandra Jaquith mentioned Shattuck a few times, and the ombudsman was intrigued. In January he finally met with the Shattuck neighbors in Jaquith's living room and told them he would take the case--but urged them to get a member of Congress on board, too.
U.S. Senator Wayne Allard soon signed on. Allard was still steamed over a 1998 meeting regarding Shattuck held by Region VIII administrator William Yellowtail, who refused to take any questions from the public, remembers Allard spokesman Sean Conway. A newspaper photo of Yellowtail pointing his finger at the crowd "was a symbol for what these people had been through," Conway says. "For eight years they had been told to shut up and sit down."
Even after Region VIII promised to order an independent study of the site, "to our astonishment, nothing would happen. They were interested in preserving the status quo and defending the agency's actions ten years ago," he adds. "People have totally lost confidence in the regional office."
On March 9, Allard placed a "hold" on the Senate confirmation of acting assistant administrator Timothy Fields--Martin's immediate boss in the EPA hierarchy--whose official government appointment was pending before Congress. The following day, Allard received word that Fields was coming to Denver to investigate remedies for Shattuck and had asked Martin to sort out the EPA's past actions at the site. Fields has promised a final decision on Shattuck's future by this fall--and Allard is holding his Senate confirmation hostage until then.
"The ombudsman's report is going to tell us how we got here," says Conway. "There could be two meaningful outcomes: The waste could be removed, and this could be a lesson for the EPA, at least in Region VIII, on how not to proceed on things."
The involvement of Martin, who can dig through confidential files and summon witnesses from the deepest reaches of the EPA, has given the Shattuck neighbors new energy. "If we hadn't raised hell, nothing would have happened," says Unruh. "We've been in remission from hell-raising for a little bit, and what we see now is that people are retrenching. A business that doesn't want an internal audit probably needs one."
In December the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonprofit government watchdog group, honored Martin with its annual "Beyond the Headlines Award." Martin got a crystal statue, a T-shirt and a rare moment in the Washington spotlight.
In its announcement of the event, POGO called the ombudsman a "national treasure" for "his history of placing public interest over private gain. We are proud to recognize a federal worker who is virtually unknown in Washington yet is so wildly popular outside the Beltway."
Although Martin won't give specifics about the number of times he's called in the FBI, the EPA's inspector general or the agency's criminal investigation division to look at possible lawbreaking, POGO estimates that 80 percent of Martin's major cases have resulted in criminal referrals.
POGO executive director Danielle Brian saw Martin's work for herself earlier this year at a town meeting in Uniontown, Ohio--a longtime environmental war zone and home to a fifteen-year-old Superfund site. In the 1970s and early '80s, Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, B.F. Goodrich and GenCorp had dumped liquid and solid wastes, some of them radioactive, into a thirty-acre landfill there. When the EPA recently proposed modifying its 1989 cleanup plan for the site--which would save the tire giants an estimated $12.3 million--furious citizens called for the ombudsman.
Everyone from mayors, civic leaders, church pastors, members of homeowners' associations and individual citizens showed up at the Uniontown meeting, Martin recalls. One woman presented a formal letter from her father warning of the dangers of local radiation contamination. Years ago, he'd worked with legendary physicist Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project. "No one knew this man was out there, and his credentials, of course, were impeccable," says Martin.
"Many of the people at these public hearings speak very eloquently," he says. "It's often really"--Martin searches for the word--"profound. It's democracy at work."
"These are not a bunch of screaming-meemie 1960s hippies," adds Kaufman. "These are the folks next door."
But it's not easy for those folks to find the ombudsman. The agency certainly doesn't publicize Martin's job. "It's the best-kept secret in the federal government," says Jaquith, who adds that most of her citizen-activist colleagues around the country have never heard of the ombudsman. "I suspect it's because he's effective."
In early 1997 the EPA established a "regional ombudsman" program, which consultant Hirschhorn and other critics view as the agency's attempt to dilute Martin's power. But Region VIII's ombudsman, Wendy Thomi, says she spends only 20 percent of her time in that role; the other 80 percent is devoted to her job as a community-involvement coordinator for specific Superfund sites, where she works with "the whole universe of stakeholders." In her one year as ombudsman, she's dealt with only a handful of citizen complaints.
"The EPA has wasted a lot of money to create this system of regional ombudsmen who are actually supposed to prevent people from going to Bob Martin," says Hirschhorn. The agency's own research has found that Superfund cleanups have better outcomes when citizens are involved in the process, he notes, yet only about 20 percent of Superfund sites actually have an organized community group working with the agency.
And sometimes the EPA seems to discourage citizen involvement. "A whole lot of people cried foul," recalls Jaquith, when they received a memo from Washington in February 1998 stating that citizens could no longer contact Martin directly. Fields, Martin's boss, announced that complaints would have to go first to the regional ombudsman, who would refer them to the regional administrator, who then would decide whether to send them to Martin. Fields squelched the idea after citizens pointed out the conflict of interest; he later sent out a draft memo stating that while Martin could select his own cases, Fields would decide whether or not they would be funded. Again, activists protested; Fields never sent out a formal version of the note.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Washington-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), met Martin for the first time at his POGO award ceremony. A short time later, PEER asked the ombudsman to look at the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, Rhode Island, after citizens complained the EPA regional administrator was sitting on alarming statistics about dioxin contamination in the river. Martin took the case.
"Unlike the inspector general's office, he gives you the impression that he's really looking into a case and keeps you actively informed," says Ruch. "What little I know of him is very refreshing."
While Martin investigates the Shattuck and arsenal cases, the EPA has invited him to borrow some office space in its skyscraper headquarters on 18th Street--but the ombudsman hasn't yet accepted the offer. He'd rather work from the grassroots up, holding meetings in citizens' homes or civic buildings. "I think it's important to be right there, where the people are," he says.
One of the job's satisfactions is "to literally go to the ground with people and hear them out, truly listen. There is a certain closure to that," he says. "As corny as it sounds, it's a privilege to work with these really good people, like Sandy [Jaquith] and Rick [Warner], who volunteer their lives to help protect fellow citizens' lives.
The arsenal was Colorado's first EPA ombudsman case, and the local office has "been very supportive," Kaufman says diplomatically. But EPA reaction in the field hasn't always been that way. "It's been a mixed record," he adds. "In the past, it was more, 'Problem? No, we don't have a problem.' But that's changing."
Over the coming year, the ombudsman expects to study half a dozen major issues involving the former munitions site. "But you know, that's not the end," Martin says. "I can have continuing jurisdiction. The people who live here will have other issues, and I can continue to look at those."
Because of the independent nature of Martin's work, Laura Williams, the EPA's project manager at the arsenal, says she's "pretty much in the dark--and I think that pretty much goes for the whole region. Maybe it's a little frustrating because we both work for EPA and people ask me what he's up to. I'm not able to be as helpful as I would like to be."
Williams, who oversees the day-to-day remediation work carried out on the site, says she's met twice with Martin: when he first came on board in Denver and "outlined the process" of a typical investigation, and again when he requested an impromptu meeting with her while he was taking a tour of the arsenal. She learned that he would attend the January citizens' meeting on the EPA's risk-assessment study "about four hours before the meeting, when his plane touched down at the airport." Still, she adds, "if he finds something, I want to get it fixed. I'm seeing it as a benefit to the project, if it helps us get things fixed."
Jim Hanley, a regional EPA veteran who became the agency's project manager at Shattuck only six months ago, says he has yet to work with the ombudsman. Citizens' groups have high praise for Hanley's communication skills, but "even though I'm a fresh person, I'm still a regional person," Hanley says. "I'm glad that the system has worked for citizens who now have an impartial sort of intervener. In no way does it hamper or hinder us. It's just another pair of hands to help us out."
And to clean up these historic messes, the EPA can use all the hands it can get. "One thing that people don't understand is that Superfund--EPA--can't clean up the world," says Kaufman. "There's just not enough money in the gross national product. What we can do is set up mechanisms to substantially reduce the threats to the public health and environment."
The EPA gets a lot of flak from critics who say the agency rushes through jobs to save money--a common charge regarding Shattuck--and to shrink the national cleanup list. "There has been that concern about trying to move things along bureaucratically," concedes Martin, "that true protection of human health and the environment is taking second place to speed. But there may be historical and institutional reasons for that."
When Congress created the Superfund nineteen years ago, the country was thought to harbor a few very nasty places that needed "immediate attention and lots of resources--your Love Canals," says Martin. "What we found out is that there are several thousand of those places." Superfund cleanups have stirred up more trouble, lasted longer and cost more than anyone foresaw in 1980.
So if he wants it, the ombudsman should have plenty of work for years to come. But Martin does have other interests.
"The first time I walked into his office," Kaufman recalls, "the first thing I noticed was a wall covered with pictures of the soccer teams he's coached. And that's when I knew--this is not a typical bureaucrat. 'I like this guy!' Because typically, you know, they have pictures of a man in a suit shaking another man in a suit's hand. When I walked into Bob's office, I thought, 'This is a human being.'"
Martin calls soccer his "release." He not only coaches from the sidelines; he's also the senior player on his hometown team.
Its name: the Unified Team.
Visit www.westword.com to read related Westword stories.