Board Games

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In a letter identified as "privileged and confidential settlement communication," Assistant City Attorney Steven Coon pointed out that Metro was Lowry's largest volume generator and had probably dumped as much as 51 million gallons at the landfill -- a far higher number than what the district had reported to the EPA. Coon claimed that the huge volume, coupled with the alleged under-reporting and the toxic chemicals added to the waste stream, could result in a $22 million judgment against Metro at trial. But, he wrote, in lieu of payment, the city was willing to take in-kind ser-vice: the right to discharge the Lowry effluent through the sewer system -- provided the district did not impose overly restrictive pretreatment standards. "Thus, it is of substantial economic value to Metro to assist in gaining EPA and Aurora acceptance of this plan and to assure that pretreatment requirements do not defeat the purposes contemplated," he wrote.

Although Coon didn't mention it in his letter, the arrangement would also benefit the Lowry Cleanup Trust. In one analysis prepared by the city, four proposed methods for treating the Lowry groundwater, ranging in cost from $5.8 million to $12.7 million, were examined. The cheapest option -- and the one ultimately chosen by the city -- simply called for removing the organic compounds from the groundwater at a small water-treatment facility on-site and then dumping the water into the sewer system and letting Metro handle the rest.

This option, referred to in numerous documents as the "POTW option" -- the publicly owned treatment works option -- was also a bargaining chip in ongoing discussions that the city and Waste Management were having with the EPA and its legal representative, the Department of Justice. The EPA had alleged that Denver and Waste Management owed it millions of dollars for work at Lowry. Until that bill was settled, according to David Dain of the Justice Department, the federal government would not proceed with discussions regarding the use of "Metro's POTW to treat wastewater from the site."

The closed-door negotiations were delicate; tempers were frayed. Finally, in June 1996 -- the week a trial over the issue was set to begin in federal court -- the deal was finalized. In addition to treating the Lowry effluent, Metro agreed to ante up $1.9 million in cash.

This wasn't the first time public sewers had been used to flush away Superfund waste. In fact, Metro accepted wastes at one time or another from several Superfund sites, including ASARCO, a smelter in the Globeville area of north Denver. The various discharges include "hundreds of thousands of different chemicals at varying levels," testified Steve Pearlman, head of Metro's regulatory and connector relations.

When the Lowry groundwater mixes with the 160 million gallons of sewage that flow daily into Metro's treatment system in north Denver, it's diluted by a factor of 5,000 or more.

"Do you know if it's possible to dilute plutonium?" Susan Tyburksi, an attorney representing Anderson, asked Hackworth during a deposition.

"I have no idea," he responded. "But I know that...dilution is the solution to pollution."

Once on Metro's board, Anderson quickly alienated the key boardmembers who had crafted the Lowry deal. When she tried to bring up the issue, she was repeatedly rebuffed. Some boardmembers balled up newspaper clippings and other documents that she'd left on their chairs and threw them into the trash. One boardmember told her to sit down and shut up; others sniggered openly when she stood up to speak. They would later testify that she was "rude" and "aggressive." Richard Plastino, who chaired the monthly meetings, said he came to dread seeing Anderson's hand shooting up in the crowded boardroom: "She made meetings disruptive. I remember my stomach tightening up in a ball when she raised her hand, because I knew something disruptive was coming."

Marilyn Ferrari, a retired Metro employee, longtime union official and Anderson supporter, said the meetings grew so hostile that she became physically frightened. "I was afraid for her, and I was afraid for myself," she testified.

But Anderson, who had already survived several bruising environmental campaigns, was not someone who scared easily. And she had little positive to say about her fellow boardmembers, whom she described as a bunch of "elderly white guys" who approved the agenda in twenty minutes, then "bolted" for the desserts. She also alleged that it was a "captive board" that simply served as a rubber stamp for Metro manager Robert Hite and his cronies.

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Eileen Welsome

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