Groundwater cleanup continues to haunt community
By MIKE LAMB | Desert Dispatch
LENWOOD — Daron Banks says getting the truth will help Hinkley residents to move forward.
Banks filed a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board on Aug. 7 to prevent Pacific Gas Electric from ending a program to provide bottled water and whole house water units to Hinkley residents.
“The most important way for the community to move forward and move on is to find the truth,” Banks said during the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting Wednesday. “Give us a fair shake.”
He said he believes PG E and the water board have not been completely open with the community. He was responding to presentation made by Dr. Ian A. Webster, the technical adviser to the Community Advisory Committee in Hinkley. He made the point that the community views “grand progress” differently than how PG E and the Lahontan water board see it.
Webster said many in the community look upon certain above-ground issues as the main stumbling blocks to moving forward. They include declining population, homes being demolished, school closing, dying trees, vacant lots and stray dogs.
PG E and Lahontan officials, according to Webster, are more focused on the plume investigation, hydraulic gradient controls, United States Geological Survey background study, in-situ reactive zone, agriculture treatment operations and the supplemental environmental project. He claims some community stakeholders prefer to invest their time and passion in watering trees on PG E-owned property.
Webster showed the board surveys conducted at a community meeting and another one at the senior center. Health issues ranked No. 1 at the community meeting, with whole household water program and property values next. At the senior center, property values ranked No. 1, while health was second and then domestic water wells.
His report said that PG E’s remedy in answering orders from the water board will alter the above-ground landscape. While PG E and the water board are making improvements on environmental issues, other social and economic issues are possibly getting less attention under a possible “master plan.”
One board member asked Webster if he thought there was fatigue in the community.
Webster said many residents expected the community to become more vibrant through the whole house water unit program. He said they didn’t expect for so many of their neighbors to leave.
“It did leave a legacy of fatigue,” he said.
Banks followed Webster during a comment period that ended the meeting. Banks said he agreed partly with Webster, but he said there is still a lot of anger in the community. He blamed PG E for “playing games” with the community and accused the water board for not being entirely open.
“The perception is, there has been a lot of lies,” Banks said. “You (the board) don’t see the corporate side. You see the Kevin Sullivan (PG E environmental engineer) side. The environmental side. You (board) don’t see the other side that the community sees and deals with constantly. Through the years, people just wanted to leave. They don’t want to have anything else to do with PG E. They took the opportunity (to sell their homes to PG E) and they are just gone.
“I’ve had family members become sick and die because of the results of what PG E has done. That’s proven by doctors. And if you need proof, I’ll give you proof.”
Banks says many in the community just want PG E to acknowledge what they caused.
Webster said he hasn’t give up hope.
“I’m very optimistic a grand recipe can be created,” he said. “I really feel it can be done.”
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-256-4124 or mlamb@desert dispatch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.