The City of Omaha is about to take over the task of removing contaminated soil from the lead Superfund site across eastern Omaha.
And city officials want to use a more down-to-earth approach to reach out to the remaining 1,000 property owners with potential lead soil problems.
After 15 years, the Environmental Protection Agency is ending the most intensive part of its cleanup efforts.
At the end of this year, the federal agency was scheduled to end its outreach efforts in Omaha, City Planning Director James Thele told the Omaha City Council Tuesday. The agency would continue to pay to clean up properties — but only to owners who contacted the government.
City officials wanted to do more.
The council agreed with Thele that the city should take over outreach and cleanup efforts. The efforts will continue to be funded by the EPA up to roughly $30 million, but the city will run them.
Thele said the city can do a better job at personal outreach.
“I think we’ll have a better opportunity because we’re Omahans,” he said. “We’re from Omaha. We talk the same language.”
He said some of the “legalese” handouts from the EPA might have confused some people.
The city also will make an effort to reach out to absentee landlords.
The remediation will continue to be free for property owners, Thele said. The city just has to convince people that removing lead from the soil is good for themselves, their family or their neighbors.
“Maybe the City of Omaha could do a better sales job of ‘free,’” Councilman Garry Gernandt said.
So far, the EPA tested about 40,000 properties, Thele said, and cleaned up about 15,000.
Now the city will have seven years to take care of the last 1,000.
Omaha will remain a Superfund site until each property is cleaned up, Thele said.
Kara Eastman, CEO of the Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, said the cleanup will be good for Omaha’s children.
“Basically there’s no safe level of lead in a child’s body,” she said.
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