The Park City School District is teaching a masterclass on deflecting, delaying, and denying responsibility. Fortunately, for our children’s sake, the class is almost over.
Since 2017 the Park City School District (PCSD) has been storing soil with lead and arsenic next to Treasure Mountain Junior High. Toxic soil, or what is officially called “solid waste” by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), is only to be left at a site for a few months, not six years. While the dangerous soil is in place, it is supposed to be covered by a cap. A cap is basically “good” soil covering the bad. However, testing this summer found that the cap was not thick enough and lead was being exposed at higher levels than codes allow.
Yesterday, Salt Lake Tribue Reporter Michelle Deininger reported that the School District must act now to clean up the waste. She reported, “The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has told Park City schools time is running out to submit a formal plan for removing contaminated soil piles at Treasure Mountain Junior High. The plan was due in January 2023, and a deadline extension passed six months ago. If the project is not finalized by year’s end, the DEQ said the EPA will assume responsibility on Jan 1, 2024.”
Further, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that “The latest DEQ letter refuted recent public comments by Park City Board of Education President Andrew Caplan, who said the district did not know whether or not the piles needed to go and the DEQ was ‘still looking at it.'” The DEQ letter states, “The soil piles remain in violation of the previously cited regulations within this letter and remain in very close proximity to both the TMJHS and McPolin Elementary School. The direction to remove these soil piles off-site … remains unchanged.”
Let’s cut to the chase. There is soil containing lead and arsenic piling up next to TMJH and McPolin Elementary. In testing a few months ago, the dangerous soil was not covered appropriately. It could have exposed community members to lead and arsenic. A plan to remove the soil was due to the DEQ in January 2023. The school board said they weren’t sure whether they needed to remove the dangerous soil, but the DEQ seems to refute that by saying they told the district they needed a removal plan in 2022. The district says they NOW have a plan, but they can’t share it with us because it is a draft. The DEQ says they will request the EPA to take over if a formal plan isn’t in place by January 1, 2024.
It’s another case of PCSD acting like they are above the law. They don’t need building permits. They don’t report abuse. They don’t clean up their waste.
PCSD estimated that cleaning up this soil would cost between $3 million and $13 million. When the EPA gets involved, which number do you think it will be closer to? Oh, and the EPA will bill PCSD for every penny and more. That means everyone related to the school district will be impacted: students, teachers, and taxpayers.
The school district has two months to put a plan in place to remove the dangerous soil. That should have been done five years ago. For years they have deflected, delayed, and denied responsibility. If the EPA ends up taking over, things will get very real, very quickly, for the School District Board members and Administration.
Either way, the jig is up for Park City Schools. Either they fix it or the EPA does. At least our children and teachers will be safer.
However, what does it tell us about our school district? These are the people who are ultimately responsible for teaching our children. If we can’t trust them to clean up lead and arsenic next to our schools, how can we trust them with anything else? Let’s hope they finally decide to do the right thing and clean up this mess. Furthermore, let’s hope no students, teachers, or community members develop complications from their actions.
However, if the EPA is forced to step in on January 1st, it’s time for a complete reboot of the Park City School District.
At some point, the school district has to be held accountable for the plethora of scandals that have arisen during Superintendent Gildea’s tenure. If hate speech, swastikas, magic rocks, building permits, non-reported abuse, teachers not invited back, bullying, employee daycare, substitutes, refusal to speak with the media, bus issues, and forcing the Summit County Health Department to descend on Parley’s Park Elementary don’t cause the public to demand a change, I’m not sure what will.
Maybe an EPA takeover due to inaction over lead and arsenic next to our kids will mean something — but I doubt it. Change starts at the school board level and then filters down.
Either Jefferson or Mencken was right.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The government you elect is the government you get.”
H.L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Maybe they were both right.